Man immolates self; BJP claims it is over Sabarimala

A 55-year-old man said to be an Ayyappa devotee, died after setting himself afire near the venue of the BJP's protest over the Sabarimala issue here Thursday.

Calling a state-wide hartal on Friday over the death, BJP claimed the man immolated himself protesting the "adamant" stand of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government in Kerala over the issue of continuing prohibitory orders and restrictions at the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala.

Venugopalan Nair of Muttada near here, who suffered 90 per cent burns, succumbed at the Government Medical College Hospital in the evening, police said. Chanting 'Swamiye saranam Ayyappa' mantra, Nair set himself afire after dousing him with petrol near the venue in front of the state secretariat in the early hours. He tried to run toward the makeshift tent where BJP leader C K Padmanabhan is on an indefinite fast demanding lifting of prohibitory orders in force in and around Sabarimala hill shrine, police said. Party activists and police personnel, who were present near the venue, in front of the Kerala secretariat, doused the fire using drinking water and rushed him to the hospital, where he died without responding to treatment.

Quoting his relatives, police said Nair was an Ayyappa devotee. BJP announced a dawn-to-dusk hartal across the state Friday as a mark of respect to Nair. A BJP release claimed that Nair took the extreme step due to the "adamant" stand of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government on the Sabarimala issue.

The party has been protesting against the state government over its decision to implement the Supreme Court order allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the temple and also demanding lifting of the ban orders and restrictions.

The state government has said it was constitutionally bound to implement the September 28 Supreme Court. After a large number of devotees came out against the apex court order, the BJP and main opposition Congress have backed their stand.

The BJP is opposing any move to allow women in the 10-50 age group to trek the holy hill for 'darshan' at the Ayyappa temple. When the temple was opened for monthly and special pujas in October and November, there were massive protests by devotees, following which severe restrictions, including prohibitory orders, were imposed by the state government.

However, so far no women in the previously banned age group had been able to enter the temple. Since the two-month long pilgrim season began on November 16, this is the second state-wide hartal called by the BJP on the Sabarimala issue.

Earlier, it had observed a hartal to protest the detention of K P Sasikala, President of the Hindu Aikya Vedi. Meanwhile, officials said examinations scheduled to be held by various universities, including Mahatma Gandhi and Kerala varsities, Friday have been postponed.

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