The violence that wracked Kerala after two women of childbearing age evaded Hindutva protestors to enter the Sabarimala temple in the early hours on January 2 was carefully orchestrated, political analysts say.
Bindu Ammini, 42, and Kanakadurga, 41, entered Sabarimala 97 days after the Supreme Court in September lifted the traditional ban on women between 10 and 50 offering prayers at the shrine. Claiming that the presence of women had defiled the temple, Hindutva protestors attacked the police, journalists, the offices of political opponents and ordinary people. They hurled bombs at leaders of rival political parties and destroyed vehicles owned by the state government, even damaging public transport buses. The violence continued for three days.
By Sunday evening, the Kerala Police had arrested 5,397 persons in 1,772 cases across the state.
Though some have claimed that the violence was spontaneous, experts disagree. “Spontaneous public protest would have died down immediately...” said political commentator KP Sethunath. “But the mob violence continued for many days because of meticulous planning.”
He added: “What we just saw was a similar to the violence unleashed during the so-called cow protectors elsewhere.”
Political scientist Dr J Prabhash noted that the trouble makers masked their faces with saffron robes to hide their identities and carried weapons. “In reality they were controlled by Sangh Parivar leaders from remote corners,” he said.
Preparing the ground
Hindutva outfits appear to have prepared the ground for the violence three months ago, observers say. The Sangh Parivar realised the political potential of the Sabarimala issue when Kerala saw non-violent protests against the Supreme Court verdict by the upper-caste Hindu Nair Service Society, starting from October. Though the Rashtriya Swayamasevak Sangh had initially welcomed the verdict, it changed track. It explained that though it respected the verdict, it could not ignore the sentiments of millions of devotees.
This gave its supporters the moral backing to attempt to stop women pilgrims from entering Sabarimala, observers say. Sangh supporters even set up checkpoints outside the hill temple and at the entry point 20 kilometres away to ascertain the ages of women pilgrims. This forced as many as 17 women pilgrims to beat a retreat. In fact, Bindu and Kanakadurga first attempted to enter the temple on December 24. The previous day, 11 women pilgrims had to run for safety when a mob charged at them.
“The Sangh has been successfully utilising the mob ever since the temple was opened for the first time on October 17 after the Supreme Court verdict,” Sethunath said.
Protestors also hounded women who had made unsuccessful attempts to enter the temple. For instance, protests forced Dalit activist and teacher Bindu Thankam Kalyani to be transferred from a school in Kozhikode to Palakkad district. However, she continues to face threats in her new workplace.
Keeping the pot boiling
Even as the violence continued, a leading Malayalam television channel, Media One, broadcast footage of an armed group threatening to kill Muslims and demolish mosques. The video showed the group making these threats from the premises of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal in Kozhikode on January 3.
Sethunath alleged that the Sangh has been trying to spark communal riots in Kerala. “It is using Sabarimala as just a tool to achieve its ultimate aim,” he said.
He said that the Sabarimala debate had given Hindutva outfits another opportunity to create communal divisions after an unsuccessful attempt in November to foment trouble by reviving a debate around the 1921 Mapila Riots. “After the state government headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) openly supported women’s entry at Sabarimala, pro-Sangh minded people have begun to ask whether the Communists will get involved in a Muslim or Christian religious issue,” Sethunath said. “That is why Bharatiya Janata Party state president PS Sreedharan Pillai had described Sabarimala as a ‘golden opportunity’ for his party.”