Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 3 (PTI) Widespread stone pelting, blocking of vehicles and incidents of violence and vandalism Thursday marked the dawn-to-dusk hartal called by the Hindu outfits in Kerala against the entry of two women of menstruating age into the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, police said.
The 12-hour long hartal, called by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of various pro-Hindutva groups, and the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), hit normal life in the initial hours.
A 55-year-old man, who was seriously injured in stone pelting at Pandalam, died late Wednesday night, police said.
State-run KSRTC buses, which were pelted with stones during the violence on Wednesday by anti-women entry agitators, kept away from roads in many districts.
Adding to the woes of the public, number of autorickshaws plying were very less.
A large number of passengers, including women and children, were seen stranded at bus stands and railway stations across the state.
A 64-year old woman, Pathumma from Wayanad who came for treatment at the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) here, collapsed and died at the railway station here in the morning, following which her relatives alleged that a delay in getting ambulance service resulted in her death.
Shops and hotels remained closed in the state capital.
However, defying the hartal call, several merchants opened shops in SM Street, a major traders’ hub in Kozhikode, Kochi and Kollam under police security.
The merchants’ organisations had said they would not extend support to the hartal and keep shops and business establishments open.
Television channels aired visuals of protesters forcibly downing shutters of shops in various districts since the hartal began at 6 am.
The protesters burnt tyres and placed granite blocks on roads to check vehicle transport in Kozhikode, Palakkad and Kollam.
The local party offices of the ruling CPI(M) were pelted with stones in Ernakulam and Malappuram districts, police said.
A library managed by the Left party in Palakkad was vandalised by protesters. Autorickshaws and private buses suffered damage during stone pelting in Kannur and Kozhikode, the police said.
Besides buses, police patrol vehicles were also attacked in some places.
The BJP is supporting the shutdown while the Congress-led UDF is observing a “black day” on Thursday.
A large number of protesters were arrested in various districts in connection with the violent incidents but the police is yet to divulge the total number of people arrested across the state.
At least 22 people were arrested in Malappuram and 12 in Kannur in connection with violence Wednesday night and this morning, police said.
Meanwhile, the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala witnessed a heavy rush of devotees despite the hartal and road blocks in the morning, shrine sources said.
Two women, Kanakadurga (44) and Bindu (42), had created history Wednesday by entering the shrine guarded by police three months after the Supreme Court’s historic judgement lifting the ban on entry of girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age into the shrine of Lord Ayyappa, its “eternally celibate” deity.
As the news spread like wildfire from the hill shrine, protests erupted at several places, with Hindu right-wing activists blocking highways and forcing closure of shops and markets.
BJP and CPI(M) workers clashed in front of the Secretariat here for over five hours Wednesday as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.
State DGP Loknath Behara warned of strict action against those indulging in violence during the hartal.
Various universities, including Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi, Calicut and Kannur have postponed their examinations scheduled for Thursday.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.