Sabarimala, nun protests, floods rock Kerala in 2018

SC's verdict permitting women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala sparked protests that turned violent on several occasions.
(From top left to right) Sabarimala issue, When The state survived a Nipah scare, Bishop Franco arrested in connection with the nun rape case and Kerala flood. (Photo | EPS)
(From top left to right) Sabarimala issue, When The state survived a Nipah scare, Bishop Franco arrested in connection with the nun rape case and Kerala flood. (Photo | EPS)

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A deadly monsoon that triggered unprecedented floods in a century, heaping misery on the people, and violent protests over the Supreme Court verdict throwing open the doors of the famous Sabarimala temple to women of all ages made 2018 a nightmarish year for Kerala.

Scripting history, five nuns gathered courage and came out of their convents to launch a 13-day protest demanding justice for their colleague, allegedly raped by a bishop.

The state survived a Nipah scare in May after 17 people died of the deadly virus in northern districts of Kozhikode and Malappuram, but fortunately, its spread was contained quickly because of coordinated efforts by the state and central health agencies.

If it was cyclone Ockhi that played havoc last year, natures fury in the form of an unprecedented deluge in August this year dealt a severe blow to the Gods Own Country, known for its lush green landscape, beautiful beaches and backwaters.

Kerala faced the devastating floods and landslides during the South West Monsoon that left 493 people dead and rendered lakhs of others homeless as the overflowing rivers swamped residential areas, drawing people in misery.

Houses crumbled and bridges collapsed as the floodgates of almost all reservoirs in the state had to be opened due to copious rains for days on end, virtually sinking vast swathes of the state.

The Cochin International airport, one of the busiest in the country, had to shut down operations for nearly two weeks after swirling waters flooded the runway and other operational areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the state and undertook an aerial survey of the flood-hit areas.

A World Bank report pegged the losses caused by the floods at about Rs 21,000 crore.

Though promises of assistance flowed in from various countries, a controversy broke out over the reported offer of Rs 700 crore by the UAE for the flood-ravaged state to undertake the massive relief and rehabilitation work.

The Centre and the Left Democratic Front government of Pinarayi Vijayan were locked in a war of words after the former politely turned down the UAE offer, citing existing policy and making it clear that it was committed to meeting the state's requirements through domestic fund mobilisation.

The Centre also shot down the plan by the state to send its ministers abroad to mobilise funds from expatriate communities, leaving Kerala fuming.

Besides the Rs 600 crore allocated to the state, the Union government has announced Rs 3,048 crore additional assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund against Rs 4,700 crore sought by Kerala.

The monsoon fury and Nipah virus scare badly affected the tourism sector, a major contributor to the state's finances.

Just as the state was limping back to normalcy came the Supreme Court's September 28 verdict permitting women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala, sparking protests that turned violent on several occasions.

The CPI(M)-led LDF government, which during the hearing took a firm stand against the traditional ban on women in 10-50 age group, made it clear that it was constitutionally bound to implement the apex court order.

After devotees took to streets in several parts of the state against the court order, the main opposition Congress and BJP came out against the entry of young women into the shrine, though their national leadership had initially welcomed the verdict.

Right-wing outfits also joined the protests by organising "nama japam" programmes where Lord Ayyappa hymns were chanted in order to protect the unique traditions of the temple whose deity is considered a "Naishtika Brahmachari" (perennial celibate).

The temple witnessed unprecedented drama and frenzied protests when it opened for the first time after the court orders and the agitators ensured no women in the previously banned age group reached there.

From young activist Rehana Fathima, who was escorted by police, to a 52-year-old woman, who was suspected to be in the banned age group, the women were heckled and prevented from entering the shrine by the protesters.

Police launched a crackdown and arrested many of the protesters and imposed stringent restrictions on those undertaking the pilgrimage during the ongoing annual season, drawing the ire of the Kerala High Court, which appointed a three-member committee to oversee the arrangements.

Trupti Desai, founder leader of the Bhumata Brigade, who campaigned for women's entry into various religious places, including the Shani Shingnapur temple and the Haji Ali Dargah, had to beat a hasty retreat from Kerala giving up plans to enter Sabarimala after landing at Kochi airport due to protests.

The protests had an adverse impact on the nearly two-month-long annual pilgrim season that began on November 16 with dwindling footfall.

Kerala was rocked by a sleaze scandal when a nun accused the then Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal of sexually assaulting her over the years.

In a first in the history of the Roman Catholic church in India, five nuns held a protest dharna in Kochi for 13 days demanding the arrest of Mulakkal, who rejected the allegations.

Following mounting public pressure, the bishop, divested of his duties by the Vatican, was arrested and later released on bail.

Sexual harassment charges were also levelled against a CPI(M) legislator from Shornur in Palakkad district by a woman worker, leading to his suspension from the party.

On the positive side, the year saw a 96-year-old woman, Karthiyayani Amma from Alappuzha district passing out with flying colours a literacy examination conducted by the Kerala government scoring 98 per cent marks.

On the political front, E P Jayarajan, who had resigned from the cabinet two years ago over nepotism charges, was re-appointed a minister in the Vijayan government.

After a 24-year legal battle, Former ISRO scientist, Nambi Narayanan, got his name cleared in the 1994 espionage case and the LDF government promptly gave him the Rs 50 lakh compensation ordered by the Supreme Court.

With the commissioning of the Kannur airport in the northern region, Kerala became the only state that boasts of four international airports.

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