KERALA, INDIA: Hindu hardliners blocked intersections, threatened drivers and ordered a 12-hour strike on Thursday as they stepped up their campaign to bar women from one of India’s holiest temples.
The Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala in the southern state of Kerala was meant to allow women from Wednesday following an order last month by India’s highest court.
But hundreds of traditionalists, throwing stones at baton-wielding police, defied the order, surrounding and shouting at any woman attempting to make it to the hilltop site.
Angry young men also surrounded and smashed the car windows of female television reporters and threatened others, including an AFP reporter. Another female correspondent was kicked.
Overnight local Hindu groups declared a 12-hour shutdown of local businesses, telling drivers that their vehicles would be attacked if they took anyone towards the temple.
“Some men came to the parking lot early Thursday and warned taxi drivers against defying the shutdown call,” taxi driver Praveen, in the town of Pathanamthitta, told AFP.
“They warned drivers at several nearby parking lots and hotels. Anyone who defies it will be risking damage to his vehicle,” he added in an account corroborated by other drivers.
“No one will get to the temple today because all the drivers are scared for the safety of their cars,” one hotel receptionist told AFP.
State authorities have insisted that they will ensure access to the temple, imposing restrictions on public gatherings that came into force from midnight.
Kerala police, who have drafted in hundreds of extra officers, many with helmets and body armour over their khaki uniforms, provided escorts to some buses.
Police also patrolled through the night and reinforced their presence at Nilackal, the base camp below the temple
But groups of between 50 and 100 young men gathered at intersections on Thursday, preventing any vehicles from continuing towards the temple.
“Traditions that have existed since before courts cannot be tampered with,” said Krishna Kumar, a tall muscular man in his 20s at one crossroads in the town of Kozhencherry.