1 dead, 100+ wounded in clashes sparked by dispute over women’s access to temple in India Over 100 people were injured and one was killed in violence that erupted as Hindu nationalists called for a statewide strike in Kerala after two women were allowed access to a sacred site in defiance of tradition.
Thursday’s shutdown is the latest battle in an ongoing violent conflict which began after India’s Supreme Court revoked an ancient religious ban on women of menstruating age participating in worship at the Sabarimala Temple.
The general strike was called in response to two women successfully reaching the temple grounds on Wednesday for the first time, leading to purification rituals and widespread anger among conservative Hindus.
The local umbrella opposition alliance which organized the protests – the United Democratic Front (UDF) – declared it to be a “black day” in Kerala, placing the blame on the state’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM) and accusing the two women who entered the temple of being “Maoists.”
Taxis, buses, and shops shut down across the state, as protestors clashed with police who were dispersed to protect businesses which remained open. Demonstrators have destroyed hundreds of city buses and ransacked at least 15 stores.
Police deployed tear gas, charged at demonstrators with batons, and even ran down two activists with a police vehicle. Of the over 100 people injured, 34 were police officers. There have been 266 arrests so far, to local news outlet Manomora. One 55-year-old activist from the town of Pathanamthitta died as a result of injuries he sustained after being pummeled by stones.
Several airlines also issued travel advisories for those planning to visit the region. Aside from a virtual shut-down of public transportation, several universities have rescheduled exams.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan accused the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one of the two main parties in India, of turning Sabarimala into a “battle zone,” after its leadership issued statements which appeared to support the demonstrations.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP has also drawn criticism for his comments on Twitter which called the question a matter of “beliefs.”
The clashes come just ahead of general elections in India scheduled to begin in March, putting issues of gender and religion on the front lines of conflict in Indian society.
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