Britain warns on travel to southern India after temple unrest

Police stand inside the premises of the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state of Kerala, India, October 17, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 06 January 2019
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Britain warns on travel to southern India after temple unrest

  • Hindu groups believe that women of menstruating age should not enter the temple because they are “impure” and the temple deity, Ayyappa, was celibate

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: Britain on Saturday warned tourists visiting the southern Indian state of Kerala after sporadic violence in recent days over the admission of women to one of Hinduism’s holiest temples.
In updated travel advice, London advised UK nationals in Kerala, popular with tourists particularly at this time of year, to “monitor media reports closely, remain vigilant and avoid large public gatherings.”
The Sabarimala temple has been at the center of a prolonged showdown between traditionalists and authorities since September, when India’s top court overturned a ban on women of menstruating age — deemed as those aged 10 to 50 — setting foot inside.
After several weeks of hard-liners preventing women from accessing the hilltop temple, at times violently, earlier this week two women managed to sneak inside before dawn and become the first to worship there since the landmark ruling.
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.
The entry of the women has sparked days of clashes across Kerala involving enraged Hindu devotees, riot police using tear gas and water cannon, and activists from Kerala’s leftist state government — which supports the entry of women.
One man died and almost 300 people have been injured including more than 100 police officers and some 10 journalists, police say. More than 3,000 protesters have either been arrested or taken into preventive custody.
Police said Saturday that unidentified attackers hurled a homemade bomb at the home of a politician from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and set ablaze the office the hard-line Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group.
Both are opposed to the court’s order to allow women inside the temple.
No injuries were reported in the blast or the fire, 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.

Kerala has a history of political violence between Hindu and the left-leaning parties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist BJP has 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.


India seizes one ton of ketamine on boat, arrests six Myanmar crew

Updated 25 min 1 sec ago

India seizes one ton of ketamine on boat, arrests six Myanmar crew

  • India’s coast guard seized $42 million worth of ketamine

NEW DELHI: India’s coast guard has arrested six Myanmar men and seized $42 million worth of ketamine after spotting a suspicious vessel in the Indian Ocean near the Nicobar Islands.
The 1,160-kilogram drug haul came after coast guard aircraft spotted the boat, which had its lights off, on Wednesday in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the defense ministry said in a statement.
The boat’s crew did not respond to radio calls and the coast guard eventually boarded it, with officials finding “57 gunny bundles of suspicious substance” on Friday.
“Preliminary analysis ... revealed that the suspicious substance was ketamine and there were 1,160 packets of 1kg each onboard the vessel,” the ministry added.
The six Myanmar men and cargo were taken to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they were questioned by investigators.
They claimed they left Myanmar on September 14 and were due to rendezvous with another boat “operating near the Thailand-Malaysia maritime border line” on Saturday, the statement said.
The Nicobar Islands are located near Southeast Asia, off Myanmar’s coast.
Parts of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are in the lawless “Golden Triangle” zone, the world’s second-largest drug-producing region after Latin America.
Large amounts drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine are churned out in remote jungle labs each year and smuggled across Asia and beyond.