Violence rages over Indian flashpoint Hindu temple

Police detain an Indian activist amid demonstrations after women entered the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi in southern Kerala state, on Friday, January 4. (AFP)
Updated 05 January 2019
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Violence rages over Indian flashpoint Hindu temple

  • More than 3,000 protesters have either been arrested or taken into preventive custody
  • Kerala has a history of political violence between Hindu and the left-leaning parties

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Twin arson and bomb attacks rocked southern India Saturday, continuing a violent backlash that followed the entry of two women into a Hindu temple that forbids female devotees.
The Sabarimala temple in Kerala state has been at the center of a prolonged showdown between religious hard-liners and authorities since September, when India’s top court overturned a ban on women aged 10 to 50 setting foot inside.
Police said unidentified attackers hurled a homemade bomb at the home of a politician from the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and set ablaze the office of its Hindu nationalist parent group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Both are opposed to the court’s order to allow women inside the temple.
No injuries were reported, police said.
The fresh attacks came hours after unknown attackers bombed the house of a politician linked to the state’s ruling Communist Party, which has vowed to implement the court order.
One person has died and more than 270 others have been injured since Wednesday, when thousands protested after two women devotees in their 40s prayed inside the temple.
The two local women had become the first to access the shrine since the landmark verdict and months-long of siege by Hindu hard-liners that forced dozens of women devotees to retreat from the gold-plated hilltop temple.
A third woman from Sri Lanka said she entered the temple on Thursday night but this was disputed by the temple authorities, who performed a “purification” ritual after the two other women made their way into the shrine.
More than 3,000 protesters have either been arrested or taken into preventive custody after multiple clashes between police and demonstrators.
Kerala has a history of political violence between Hindu and the left-leaning parties but tensions in the region have escalated since the women entered the temple on January 2.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a member of the BJP, joined calls by his party and the RSS for a statewide shutdown to protest the women’s entrance.
Modi’s party accuses the state government of backing “anti-religious” groups to violate Hindu traditions.
Hindu groups believe that women of menstruating age should not enter the temple because they are “impure” and the temple deity, Ayyappa, was celibate.
The Communist Party has accused the BJP and RSS of inciting violence in the state.
Women are barred from a handful of Hindu temples in India, including Sabarimala, where it was considered a taboo for centuries before the ban was given legal force by Kerala High Court in 1991.
But the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in September overturned the Kerala court’s ruling after six women lawyers petitioned it in 2006, challenging a ban they said violated their fundamental rights.


Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

Updated 39 min 10 sec ago

Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

  • Nearly 1,500 schools closed as haze continues to plague the country

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s haze problem worsened on Wednesday, some areas of the country recorded readings above 200 on the Air Pollution Index (API), which officials told Arab News is considered “very unhealthy.”

More than a million primary and high-school students stayed home as 1,484 schools remained closed in seven states, including Selangor and Sarawak — the two worst-affected states. 

In some areas of Sarawak, API readings were above 300, which is considered hazardous to the environment and human health. 

The Ministry of Education advised all higher education institutions in the haze-affected states to postpone their classes, while some companies and institutions, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, asked employees to work from home.

Responding to the worsening situation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad stressed that Malaysia must deal with the haze issue on its own.

“We will have to find ways to deal with the haze, through cloud seeding, asking people to stay at home, and school closures,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya. 

The Malaysia government also stressed that it will take legal action against Malaysian companies that own estates and plantations outside Malaysia which have contributed to the problem. 

“We will ask them to put out the fires (they have set). If they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that holds them responsible,” the 93-year-old Malaysian leader said.

The ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre reported that forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatera and Kalimantan regions have intensified, leading to an increase in the haze across the Southeast Asian region. Those fires, coupled with the dry weather conditions in certain areas, mean the air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate. The general public have been advised to stay indoors and to wear facemasks if they do have to go outside.

Benjamin Ong, a Kuala Lumpur-based environmentalist told Arab News that many Malaysians are concerned about the ongoing and worsening issue of haze, which has become an annual occurrence despite efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast-Asian governments to tackle the transboundary problem. 

“Outdoor activities are badly affected, including environmental activities like hiking and outdoor classes for kids,” Ong said, adding that many families are especially concerned about the pollution’s impact on their children’s education.

“The haze has been hanging around for at least 20 years, but the root causes have never been systematically tackled,” he added. “Distribution of masks, school closures and cloud seeding are only treating the symptoms, so to speak, and do not in any way make society more resilient to haze if and when it returns.”