Hundreds of men, women and children, mostly Badagas, across the district gathered here on Saturday to condemn Friday's arrest of 18 persons including five women at B. Manihatty village, a predominantly Badaga hamlet.

The arrests were made following a row over a move by L. Moorthy, who lives in B. Manihatty, to construct a church in the village. The matter took a violent turn, and ended up in his house getting attacked.

The protest gathering was attended by prominent members of the community including T.M. Kulla Gowder, who addressed the gathering. Later, they took out a procession and submitted memorandums to the district administration and the police.

Demanding the unconditional release of all those arrested, they said the authorities should ensure that activities like construction of churches or religious propaganda did not take place in Badaga villages.

Appropriate action should be taken against police officers who had allegedly mishandled the situation in B. Manihatty and created a law and order problem, the protestors said. Police pickets posted in the village should be withdrawn immediately. Suitable action should also be taken against those denigrating the culture of the Badagas, they said.

In view of the villagers congregating here, security has been beefed up. Speaking to The Hindu,the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Coimbatore Range, H.M. Jayaram said additional strength had been brought from the plains.

Describing the developments on Friday as “unfortunate”, he said they should not have been allowed to take place. To a question, he said from the police's point of view, it was a social problem and had nothing to do with law and order. Since those on either side of the divide belonged to the same community, it was also not a communal problem.