Protests begin as Kerala braces for Thursday's hartal

Protests begin as Kerala braces for Thursday's hartal

Congress workers burn tyres on state highway M C Road, in Kulakkada in Kollam district in Kerala on Thursday. DH PHOTO/Roshan H Nair

Kerala seems to have started 2019 off on explosive note. If New Year's saw the 'Women's wall’, the next day continued on the same tempo with the news that two women had entered the Sabarimala sanctum sanctorum.

While the ruling CPM and left-leaning media organisations like The NewsMinute declared a win against “patriarchy” on the first two days of the year, the BJP and Congress were hoping for a win for “faith” on day 3.

The BJP has declared a hartal for Thursday, while the Congress has separately called for a “black day”.

Marches and protests were taken out in several places in the state, although shops continued to be open.

Ayyappa Karma Samithi chairman Jayakumar said the BJP had asked traders and shopkeepers to keep their shops shut on Thursday. “We hope they will comply. We are planning a peaceful protest,” he said.

He said the reason the protests began one day before the day announced for protest is that it's not just the BJP who is frustrated with the CPI(M) but common people who are hurt. “This is about Lord Ayyappan. We go to houses. People are crying there. This is not about the BJP.”

“Anganwadis were shut although there were specific instructions to not shut them.

Youth Congress leader Jayakrishnan, who was part of a Congress protest that burnt tyres on M C Road, the State Highway No. 1, said they have the backing of the central leadership, and that Congress chief Rahul Gandhi is with “faith”.

He said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is under the impression that “if he hurts Hindu devotees, the other communities will stand by him.”

Jayakrishnan even claimed that “growing the BJP is his (Pinarayi's) intention.”

“He very well knows that the BJP can never come to power in the state. But the party can grow, and it's the Congress votes that will get split when it does,” Jayakrishnan said.

He also said CPM leaders who chose not to attend the 'Women's Wall’ have run into trouble with the party.

He also voiced suspicion, echoed on the BJP side as well, that the Women's Wall was an elaborate ruse for chief minister to “sneak women into Sabarimala”.

The belief may have been strengthened by Kerala's very popular Facebook meme pages, where trolls mocked “Sanghis” for having been easily distracted from the Sabarimala protest by the Women's Wall.

Both BJP and Congress leaders said CPI(M) had threatened or misled people into attending the Women's Wall.

“Not everyone knew what the Women's Wall was about. Some people believed that it was about increasing wages under the Rural Employment Generation Scheme,” Jayakrishnan said.

“Some beneficiaries of the scheme were told that their wages would be cut if they didn't attend the wall,” he said.

Members of Kudumbashree, the state government's women empowerment programme, were threatened into attending the programme.

When DH spoke to CPI(M) Kollam district secretary S Sudevan, he rubbished the BJP's and Congress’ claims that people were coerced into attending the Women's Wall.

“Kerala is not a state where you can do that. 50 lakh across Kerala attended it, 4 lakh in Kollam district alone,” he said.

“That so many people have come together in a tiny state like Kerala means that the people of the state are with us,” Sudevan said.