Hindu hardliners clash with police over women at shrine

  • In this Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, photo, Indian policewomen, above the age of 50, offer prayers at Sabarimala temple, one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, India. Reports of two women of menstruating age, or between the age of 10 to 50, entering the temple on Wednesday, Jan. 2, have lead to protests across the state. India’s Supreme Court on Sept. 28, 2018 lifted the ban on women of menstruating age from entering the temple, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

  • Policemen stand guard near the state secretariat anticipating protests following reports of two women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala temple, one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. Two women on Wednesday entered one of India’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites that had been forbidden to females between the ages of 10 and 50, sparking protests across a southern state, with police firing tear gas at several places to break up stone-throwing protesters, police said. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)

  • Opposition Congress party activists burn an effigy of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reacting to reports of two women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala temple, one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. Two women on Wednesday entered one of India’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites that had been forbidden to females between the ages of 10 and 50, sparking protests across a southern state, with police firing tear gas at several places to break up stone-throwing protesters, police said. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)

NEW DELHI — Hindu hardliners vandalized shops, shut businesses and clashed with police in a southern state Thursday to protest the entry of two women in one of India’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, police said.

Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protesters who also blocked roads by placing burning tires and concrete blocks in key towns, including Kozhikode, Kannur, Malappuram, Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram.

Pinarayi Vijayan, the state’s top elected official, accused supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party of triggering violence that reportedly claimed one life.

Most state-run buses kept off roads after several were damaged by protesters.

Supporters of Modi’s party held protest marches in the state as part of a strike call by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organization of Hindu groups.

The two women entered the temple to pray early Wednesday, triggering protests. They were escorted by police because it is “the government’s constitutional responsibility to give protection to women,” Vijayan said.

Women of menstruating age were forbidden to pray at the temple until the Supreme Court lifted the ban in September. The ban was informal for many years but became law in 1972.

Some devotees have filed a petition saying the court decision revoking the ban was an affront to the celibate deity Ayyappa.

Vijayan said Thursday that 39 police officers were injured while trying to control the protesters, who damaged 79 state-run buses in the state.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that a 55-year-old passer-by died after being injured amid rock throwing by protesters in Pandalam.

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