Bengaluru: Suresh Kunhupillai, a volunteer helping flood victims in Kerala, was recently attacked by protesters while he was on his way to rebuild a house in Pathanamthitta district.

The protesters were enforcing a shutdown to demonstrate against the police action on the previous day and told Suresh to head home. After much pleading and reasoning, he was allowed to proceed, only to be stopped by several protesting groups along his way to his flood-relief work, he wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday.

Kerala is not new to shutdowns. In 2017 alone, the state had witnessed at least a hundred bandhs. However, even by its own standards, this was one rare event, given that it was not by members of political parties, but by religious and caste-based organizations.

With the pilgrim season for the Sabarimala shrine set to begin on 17 October, hundreds of angry Hindus, especially women, have taken to the streets against the Supreme Court judgement allowing women into the temple. People from the neighbouring districts have been saying that the court’s interference in Hindu shastras and traditions was unwarranted.

Various groups from the community are also targeting the Marxist government, which was in favour of women entering the temple, when it was asked for its opinion by the apex court, more so as it did not file a review petition.

The situation is becoming tense. Conservative elements in the 18 million Hindus in Kerala are threatening to hit the streets. The movement is probably the biggest non-political upheaval since the “liberation struggle", experts say.

While the verdict plays well into the narrative of fundamentalist elements, liberals feel the age-old discrimination will take the community behind by centuries.

“These non-believers have been playing for years with donations given by the poor temple-goers. Bloody violent protests will follow if they allow women," says Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Shoba Surendran.

“The state became a leading light for India after various renaissance movements changed such traditions. A progressive, secular Kerala, rose out of such movements. Before that, in Swami Vivekananda’s words, it was a mad-house," said chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

Meanwhile, politicians in search of a divisive constituency have chosen to grab the issue with both hands. Both the Congress and the BJP are backing the protesters, although the Congress national leadership had initially welcomed the verdict. The Marxists have, however, chosen to remain unambiguous, not wanting to be seen as anti-Hindu, while carrying out their constitutional duty.

The Hindu vote is considered to be most valued for both the Marxists and the Congress. Will the verdict upend such basic arithmetics on which the state’s political fortunes are based since independence?

“We still don’t know how much of the action on the streets will be translated into votes. I think the double standard of Congress is quite noticed. You can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds! The Congress is eroding itself of any credibility by supporting the fundamentalists. Also why would Hindus votes for Congress when it sees a bigger protector of their interests in BJP," said J. Prabhash, head of the political science department of Kerala University.

“This may end of as a tug of war for the Hindu votes between BJP and the Left. The BJP may be able to expand its base in Kerala with this issue, depending upon how well the left is able to tackle the erosion."

Whenever he was stopped, Suresh evaded protestors by lying that he was going to a local temple to , upon which he was allowed to travel freely and even assisted with route maps. On Monday, he deleted the Facebook post recounting this episode, because, he says, it opened a flood of personal messages and also turned inflammatory with fundamentalists in other religions sharing it widely.

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