Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah on Tuesday termed Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s handling of the Sabarimala protests as disappointing and said he cannot treat devotees like “inmates of Gulag” in a series of tweets.

“The way Pinarayi Vijayan’s government is handling the sensitive issue of Sabarimala is disappointing,” he tweeted. “Kerala police is treating young girls, mothers and aged [people] inhumanly, forcing them to take the arduous pilgrimage, without even basic facilities like food, water, shelter [and] clean toilets.”

The BJP leader said Vijayan must realise that pilgrims to the hill shrine can’t be treated like inmates of the Gulag – forced labour camps in the former Soviet Union – if reports of pilgrims having to rest near “pig droppings and dustbins” are true. “We won’t let LDF crush people’s faith with impunity,” he added.

Shah vowed to support any Ayyappa devotee who holds “the Sabarimala tradition close to his heart”. “If Pinarayi Vijayan thinks he can rise against people’s movement to preserve Sabarimala by arresting K Surendran, our Thrissur district president and six others, then he is mistaken,” he said.

The police on Saturday detained Surendran from Nilakkal while he was trying to proceed to the temple. He was remanded to 14-day judicial custody on Sunday. The police told them they would not be allowed inside the temple as they might organise protests.

Former Kerala Chief Minister and Congress leader Oommen Chandy accused the Left government of handling the Sabarimala row ineptly, reported the Hindustan Times. Chandy said the government was treating devotees trekking to the temple as terrorists. “All are in a race to make their [devotees] trekking miserable,” he said. “How can the government impose Section 144 in a place of worship? It is never heard of in the history of any temple.”

UDF workers protest in Nilakkal

Congress-led United Democratic Front workers protested in Nilakkal demanding withdrawal of prohibitory orders, and were briefly stopped by the police from accompanying their leaders, including Chandy, to the shrine to inspect facilities for devotees, PTI reported. However, the delegation, including Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Ramesh Chennithala, Chandy, Indian Union Muslim League leader MK Muneer and MP NK Premachandran squatted on the road and demanded that the workers be allowed to accompany them.

United Democratic Front activists also chanted “go back” slogans against the police. “The invoking of prohibitory orders in Sabarimala amounted to violation of human rights,” Chennithala claimed. “It should be withdrawn at the earliest. Every devotee has the right to go to Sabarimala and offer prayers.” Eventually, the police allowed everyone to visit the shrine.

Chennithala said the Sabarimala row was no longer about just the entry of women of all ages into the shrine and was more about protecting the human rights of pilgrims, according to The Hindu. It was more about protecting the human rights of pilgrims, he said.

The temple opened on Friday evening for the third time after the Supreme Court in September overturned a ban on the entry of women of menstruating age. However, so far, no woman between the ages of 10 and 50 has managed to enter the temple due to massive protests. According to the police’s new rules that came into effect from Friday, no pilgrim will be allowed to proceed to the temple after 7 pm as the temple closes for the day at 10 pm.