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.