Police say one person, part of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party protests, died and another 15 were injured in violence after two women defied a centuries-old ban by entering Sabarimala temple, provoking right-wing and traditionalists' anger.
One person was killed and at least 15 injured in violence across southern India's Kerala state, police said on Thursday, after two women defied traditionalists including ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to enter one of Hinduism's holiest temples.
Clashes were reported across the state after the two women activists, escorted by police, entered the Sabarimala temple in a surprise pre-dawn operation on Wednesday.
The Supreme Court in September overturned a decades-old ban on women of menstruating age – deemed as those between 10 and 50 – setting foot inside the gold-plated Sabarimala temple.
Several women activists have made unsuccessful attempts to reach the temple since the order but faced stiff resistance from thousands of devotees including men and women, who see it as an attack on tradition.
"The person who died was part of a BJP demonstration yesterday and got injured when some stones were hurled (at the demonstrators)," Kerala police spokesman Pramod Kumar told AFP news agency.
"His injuries were serious and he died late Wednesday night. At least 15 others were injured in incidents across the state," Kumar added.
The BJP’s Kerala state president P S Sreedharan Pillai on Wednesday called it "a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples," and said his party will "support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists."
Local media reports said the demonstrators from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP were hit by stones from a local office of the state's ruling Communist party.
Kerala chief minister Penarayi Vijayan accused far-right Hindu group called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP of turning Kerala into a war zone, News18 reported on its website.
Kerala remained tense on Thursday, and the police said additional forces had been deployed across the state to prevent further violence breaking out.
The police on Wednesday used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to control clashes between the rival groups, largely conservatives and cadres of the state's ruling left-wing parties.
Journalists were also assaulted during the disturbances in the state's capital, Thiruvananthapuram, and nearby Kollam city.
September's verdict was the latest progressive ruling from the court, with judges also overturning bans on gay sex and adultery last year.
Modi defends ban on women entry
In rare comments regarding the Sabarimala temple on Tuesday, Modi –– running for a second term in elections later this year –– appeared to support the ban, saying the matter was related to tradition.
"There are some temples which have their own traditions, where men can't go. And men don't go," Modi told Indian media.
The Supreme Court is to start hearing a legal challenge on its ruling to allow women into the temple from January 22.
Women are still barred from a handful of Hindu temples in India. The entry of women at Sabarimala was taboo for generations and formalised by the Kerala High Court in 1991.