THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: Britain on Saturday (Jan 5) warned tourists visiting the southern Indian state of Kerala after sporadic violence in recent days over the admission of women to one of Hinduism’s holiest temples.
In updated travel advice, London advised UK nationals in Kerala, popular with tourists particularly at this time of year, to “monitor media reports closely, remain vigilant and avoid large public gatherings”.
The Sabarimala temple has been at the centre of a prolonged showdown between traditionalists and authorities since September, when India’s top court overturned a ban on women of menstruating age – deemed as those aged 10 to 50 – setting foot inside.
After several weeks of hardliners preventing women from accessing the hilltop temple, at times violently, earlier this week two women managed to sneak inside before dawn and become the first to worship there since the landmark ruling.
A third woman from Sri Lanka said she entered the temple on Thursday night but this was disputed by the temple authorities, who performed a “purification” ritual after the two other women made their way into the shrine.
The entry of the women has sparked days of clashes across Kerala involving enraged Hindu devotees, riot police using tear gas and water cannon, and activists from Kerala’s leftist state government – which supports the entry of women.
One man died and almost 300 people have been injured including more than 100 police officers and some 10 journalists, police say. More than 3,000 protesters have either been arrested or taken into preventive custody.
Police said Saturday that unidentified attackers hurled a homemade bomb at the home of a politician from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and set ablaze the office the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group.
Both are opposed to the court’s order to allow women inside the temple.
No injuries were reported in the blast or the fire, police said.
The fresh attacks came hours after unknown attackers bombed the house of a politician linked to the state’s ruling Communist Party, which has vowed to implement the court order.
Kerala has a history of political violence between Hindu and the left-leaning parties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist BJP has joined calls by his party and the RSS for a statewide shutdown to protest the women’s entrance.
Modi’s party accuses the state government of backing “anti-religious” groups to violate Hindu traditions.
Hindu groups believe that women of menstruating age should not enter the temple because they are “impure” and the temple deity, Ayyappa, was celibate.
The Communist Party has accused the BJP and RSS of inciting violence in the state.
Women are barred from a handful of Hindu temples in India, including Sabarimala, where it was considered a taboo for centuries before the ban was given legal force by Kerala High Court in 1991.
But the Supreme Court in a landmark judgement in September overturned the Kerala court’s ruling after six women lawyers petitioned it in 2006, challenging a ban they said violated their fundamental rights.