Photo: Reuters

Man sets himself on fire near Sabarimala protest site in Kerala, dies

Even as the local BJP workers doused the fire and rushed him to a close-by hospital, his life could not be saved

Ernakulam: Venugopalan Nair, a 49-year old who is said to be a Sabarimala devotee, died on Thursday after he set himself on fire near Bharatiya Janata Party’s protest site over the temple row in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram.

Nair, who is from the city itself, came running to the protest site engulfed in fire around 2am, shouting “Ayyappa", as per the police. Even as the local BJP workers doused the fire and rushed him to a close-by hospital, his life could not be saved.

However, it is unclear if Nair took the extreme step distressed over Sabarimala women’s entry row or because of personal reasons. The police said that Nair was having troubled relations with his family members and that may have also acted as a trigger for the suicide.

If Nair indeed committed suicide over the Sabarimala row, this will be the first such case of political self-immolation over the issue. The Supreme Court on 28 September ruled in favour of allowing menstrual age women to the temple, against its age-old rituals, triggering protests largely under the aegis of the BJP.

The suicide attempt also raised security concerns for C K Padmanabhan, a senior BJP leader who is fasting over the row at the protest site outside Kerala’s administrative headquarters, called Secretariat, where Nair came running.

“Our protest site would have been burned down. We were saved by some grace of the lord Ayyappan. Sadly, the (Kerala) chief minister is responsible for this death. His arrogance has made this issue murkier," said Padmanabhan, who is protesting against imposition of prohibitory orders near the temple and the arrest of his party’s workers on the row.

BJP calls for dawn to dusk hartal in Kerala on Friday, citing the death. “It is an unprecedented situation in Kerala, an Ayyappa devotee has committed suicide. We will hold a dawn to dusk hartal across Kerala on Friday in protest against state government’s apathy towards Sabarimala pilgrims," said BJP Kerala’s General Secretary M T Ramesh.