At least two cars and one scooter were set on fire on the premises of a Hindu hermitage, or ashram, in south India early on Saturday. The incident comes after thousands of protesters clashed with police in an attempt to keep women of menstruating age out of the Sabrimala shrine dedicated to celibate Hindu deity Ayyappa.
Police have detained over 2,060 people in the city of Thiruvananthapuram, in the Indian state of Kerala, since the unrest first started last week. However, most of them were soon released on bail.
Hindu extremists are enraged by the idea of allowing access to the Sabrimala temple for females between 10 and 50 years of age. They say their presence would besmirch the rites dedicated to Ayyappa, the god of growth. Banning women or men from attending certain ceremonies is relatively common in the polytheistic Hindu religion.
Modi’s government against Kerala state
The traditional ban was formalized by law in 1972. Last month, India’s Supreme Court revoked it and ordered for women of all ages to be allowed entry.
This decision was decried by officials from the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds power at the federal level.
The founder of the Kerala religious center targeted on Saturday, Swami Sandeepananda Giri, is also an activist urging for women to be admitted to the Ayyappa temple. Giri blamed the ruling party for the attack on his ashram.
Local police said they were still investigating.
“No arrests have been made so far,” a Thiruvananthapuram police spokesman said.
Fueled by religion and gender issues, the dispute also feeds into a larger showdown between the right-wing government of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Kerala administration steered by the Communist Party.
The head of BJP party, Amit Shah, already slammed the Kerala government for using “brute force” against protesters and said that BJP would stand by those who were arrested.
“It’s a well-planned conspiracy to destroy the sanctity of temples in Kerala by the communists,” he told BJP supporters in Kerala on Saturday.
Government critics accuse the BJP of fanning nationalist violence, with extremist Hindu mobs lynching Muslims and other minorities for breaking Hindu religious norms, such as eating beef.
India’s Supreme Court is due to hear petitions challenging their ruling on women’s access to temples on November 13.
dj/jm (AP, AFP)