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

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 celebrates Republic Day with military parade

Updated 26 January 2020

India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

  • Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indians converged on a ceremonial boulevard in the capital amid tight security to celebrate the Republic Day on Sunday, which marks the 1950 anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution.
During the celebrations, schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route, followed by a military hardware display.
Beyond the show of military power, the parade also included ornate floats highlighting India’s cultural diversity as men, women and children in colorful dresses performed traditional dances, drawing applause from the spectators.
The 90-minute event, broadcast live, was watched by millions of Indians on their television sets across the country.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest for this year’s celebrations.
He was accorded the ceremonial Guard of Honor by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the sprawling presidential palace.
Bolsonaro joined the two Indian leaders as the military parade marched through a central avenue near the Presidential Palace.
At the parade, Bolsonaro watched keenly as mechanized columns of Indian tanks, rocket launchers, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and other hardware rolled down the parade route and air force jets sped by overhead.
Apart from attending the Republic Day celebrations, Bolsonaro’s visit was also aimed at strengthening trade and investment ties across a range of fields between the two countries.
On Saturday, Modi and Bolsonaro reached an agreement to promote investment in each other’s country.
Before the parade, Modi paid homage to fallen soldiers at the newly built National War Memorial in New Delhi as the national capital was put under tight security cover.
Smaller parades were also held in the state capitals.
Police said five grenades were lobbed in the eastern Assam state by separatist militants who have routinely boycotted the Republic Day celebrations. No one was injured, police said.
Sunday’s blasts also come at a time when Assam has been witnessing continuous protests against the new citizenship law that have spread to many Indian states.
The law approved in December provides a fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims.
Nationwide protests have brought tens of thousands of people from different faiths and backgrounds together, in part because the law is seen by critics as part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.