The Sabarimala Karma Samiti called for a dawn-to-dusk shutdown in Kerala on Saturday following the arrest of Hindu Aikya Vedi state president KP Sasikala who attempted to enter the temple, the Hindustan Times reported. The Sabarimala Karma Samiti is an umbrella organisation of outfits opposed to the Supreme Court’s order allowing women of all ages entry to the temple.

Prior to the verdict, women over the age of 10 and under the age of 50 were prohibited from entering the temple.

The Sub-Divisional Magistrate Court in Thiruvalla released Sasikala on bail later on Saturday. She said she planned to return to the shrine if her health improved, The News Minute reported.

Sasikala, believed to be over the age of 50, was arrested at around 1.30 am after being detained for around five hours at Marakkootam, Manorama Online reported. Sasikala was arrested after she defied prohibitory orders and started her approach to Sabarimala against police advice. The police said they had decided not to allow devotees to enter the shrine after the temple closed at night on Friday.

Police claimed that Sasikala wanted to incite protests at the site. But she said she wanted to make the pilgrimage as she was above the age of 50, The News Minute reported.

Meanwhile, Kerala Police took Bharatiya Janata Party leader K Surendran into preventive custody for allegedly violating prohibitory orders. Surendran was attempting to enter the temple at Nilakal when the police prevented him from entering. His detention is expected to intensify protests against the Left Democratic Front government. The BJP leader claimed he was there as a devotee, not a protestor.

Shutdown after Sasikala’s arrest

The police escorted her to Pampa in a forest department ambulance from where she was taken to Ranni in a police bus, Mathrubhumi reported. “I came to Sabarimala for pilgrimage but the police did not let me complete it,” said Sasikala. “The police did not inform fellow pilgrims about my arrest.”

According to reports, Sasikala later started a fast at the police station in Ranni. Around 2,000 workers of the Sabarimala Karma Samiti surrounded the station and urged the police to take her back to Sabarimala. They also demanded action against the police officials who arrested her.

Sasikala also refused the police’s offer to grant her bail and asked them to remand her in custody.

“She was arrested as she was on the way to the hill shrine carrying the customary ‘irumudikkettu’ [sacred offerings to Lord Ayyappa] to offer prayers,” Vishwa Hindu Parishad state president SJR Kumar told PTI. “Some other activists have been taken into preventive custody.”

These include Bharatiya Janata Party leader P Sudhir and Achara Samrakshana Samithi state convenor Prithvipal from Pamba.

BJP state president Sreedhran Pillai on Saturday termed the arrests “illegal”. “Police should answer that who gave them power to arrest the leaders from Sabarimala,” he asked, adding that the party plans to extend the protests as well in order to save Sabarimala. “The government wants to destroy the traditions of Sabarimala,” Pillai said. “Why was Sasikala arrested? The BJP will strengthen its protests and support the hartal.”

The temple opened for devotees on Friday evening for an annual pilgrimage season amid tight security, with thousands offering prayers early on Saturday. The shrine will remain open till December 27 for Mandalapooja, and then between December 30 and January 20 for another festival. Devotees began trekking from Pampa to the shrine on Saturday, ANI reported.

Police on Friday night booked more than 500 people for protesting against women’s rights activist Trupti Desai at the Cochin International Airport. Desai and six colleagues had reached the airport early on Friday to visit Sabarimala. Protestors had stopped them from leaving the airport. Another group of protestors demonstrated against Desai, after she returned to the Mumbai airport on Saturday, ANI reported.

Shutdown across state

The 12-hour shutdown began at 6 am and has the support of the BJP. While buses and auto-rickshaws stayed off the roads in several areas, the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation ferried pilgrims from Nilakkal to Pamba. KSRTC Managing Director Tomin J Thachankary said the corporation was running buses in Sabarimala with police protection to help pilgrims reach the temple.

Road blockades by Hindutva outfits were also reported at several places in capital Thiruvananthapuram.

The shutdown is expected to affect pilgrims although they have been exempted. Kumar claimed essential services and vehicles of Ayyappa devotees will not be affected.

Protestors attack CPI (M) leader’s son and his reporter wife

Protestors attacked Julius Nikithas, son of former MLA KK Lathika and Communist Party of India (Marxist) district secretary P Mohanan, and his wife Saniyo Manomi, a reporter with Asianet, reports said. The couple were treated for their injuries at a local hospital.

Activist Rahul Easwar suspends plans to protest at Nilakkal

Meanwhile, Ayyappa Dharma Sena president Rahul Easwar arrived at Nilakkal on Saturday to protest against the entry of women into the shrine, but told reporters he was returning home as the police had threatened to arrest him if he violates the prohibitory orders, Onmanorama reported.

Easwar said he would lead protests if the Supreme Court rejected the Travancore Devaswom’s plea seeking more time to implement the decision. He told reporters that police officials had told him that women of menstruating age will not be allowed into the temple.