Idukki hartal: pilgrims, tourists caught off guard

K.S. Sudhi
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Gopalan, an elderly pilgrim, had no inkling of the arduous journey that awaited him when he set off from home from Ottanchatram in Tamil Nadu for Sabarimala.

Reaching the check-post here on Monday, he realised that the road journey on a hartal day would be as tiring as the climb up the holy hills to the Ayyappa temple, if not more so.

Mr. Gopalan and his group, which included a child, had no other option but to wait at the check-post for nearly an hour before the protests eased for some time and the gate opened.

Though the Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front, which organised the dawn-to-dusk hartal on the Mullaperiyar dam dispute, had promised to exempt pilgrims' vehicles from the hartal, such waits for 30 minutes to an hour at various points hampered the pilgrims' progress, as also of tourists.

The Gurucharan family from Delhi were caught in the protest while proceeding to Alappuzha, via Idukki. Their vehicle was stopped for 30 minutes at the check-post.

K. Vijay, a pilgrim returning from Sabarimala, made use of the break in journey to have lunch from the wayside. “Though our vehicle was stopped at nearly 15 places on our way back from the temple, everyone behaved to us in a gentle manner. At some points, the protesters asked us to stop the vehicle for 15 minutes and then allowed us to proceed,” he said as he hurriedly had his lunch.

Police help

Policemen were seen assisting foreign tourists who were finding it difficult to move through the area. The policemen posted at the check-post and those deployed in the town had a tough time managing the emotionally charged protesters.

Most protesters came to the check-post with effigies and these were burnt amid shouting of slogans. Some of them danced around the burning effigies.

Several families with children were seen waiting for the protest to end to move across the check-post. The rallies and protests reached a feverish pitch around 5 p.m. as the agitation was coming to an end.

Vehicular traffic was blocked on the Kollam-Theni National Highway in the town for nearly an hour in the evening as several small groups of political parties and youth organisations marched to the check-post to take out massive rallies.

Even while blocking the road, the protesters cleared the way for an ambulance to take a patient to a nearby hospital.

These scenes will be played out on Tuesday also as the Bharatiya Janata Party has called for a hartal in Peerumade taluk on Tuesday.




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