The main accused in the heckling and assault of a 52-year-old woman who entered the Sabarimala Sannidhanam has been arrested. On Wednesday, the Kerala police charged Sooraj Elanthoor – an RSS follower from Pathanamthitta – for attempt to murder, and assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty, which are both non-bailable, cognizable offence.
The case involves 52-year-old Thrissur native Lalitha, who had visited Sabarimala on Tuesday with her relatives for her grandson’s ‘chore oonu’ (rice feeding ceremony). While she was attempting to go to the Sannidhanam, several people who assumed she was below 50 years of age, heckled her and even attempted to physically assault her.
Videos of the incident show hundreds of people chanting ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’ while accosting the lady and attempting to manhandle her. Lalitha was escorted to the sanctum with heavy police protection during the incident. In media interviews, Lalitha even said that she had shown her proof of age before climbing up to the Sannidhanam.
“Sooraj is one of the main accused and so far we have made just one arrest. Action is being taken to nab the others involved in the incident,” Pathanamthitta SP T Narayanan told TNM.
The accused has also been involved in two other cases in Sabarimala earlier, the SP added.
“He has been arrested and let off on bail for heckling a young woman journalist Libi, who attempted to go to the sanctum. Libi was stopped near the Pathanamthitta bus stand on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 when the temple opened for the first time after the SC verdict allowing women to enter. A case has also been registered against Sooraj for attacking the Pamba police station with coconuts and stones following the incident where Lalitha was harassed,” the SP added.
Following the arrest, many RSS workers have alleged on social media that Sooraj has been wrongfully detained and slapped with a non-bailable offence for questioning CPI(M) MLA Veena George earlier.
Five months ago, CPI(M) MLA of Aranmula had slapped a case on Sooraj Elanthoor for a Facebook post which questioned her on the poor state of the Pathanamthitta bus stand.
The post, which was published on Sooraj’s other account titled ‘BJP Elanthoor’, read: "This is Pathanamthitta bus stand. Dear MLA Madam, it would be very helpful if you could look into all this after your beauty parlour trips and Orthodox Church feasts. You have the government's fancy cars to travel in. If not, there are the Orthodox Church’s vehicles or the Muthoot group's imported luxury cars in plenty for you. We poor people, who by mistake have voted for you, have no other way madam."
Taking note of the post, Veena had filed a complaint against Sooraj, for publishing a defamatory post against her and insulting her based on her gender and religion. Following the complaint, the police arrested Sooraj and let him off on bail June 9. The issue sparked controversy as it was seen as the MLA using her clout to arrest her detractors.
On Wednesday, following Sooraj’s arrest in the 52-year-old woman’s case, RSS followers have condemned the police action and raised allegations of vendetta politics by the CPI(M), stating that Sooraj was nowhere in the premises when the incident happened. They also claimed that Sooraj could not be found in any of the videos that the media took during the incident.
Responding to this allegation, Pathanamthitta SP T Narayanan said that enough evidence has been gathered by the police before the arrest was made. That Sooraj was among the main accused is confirmed, he said.
“We have police photographs, videos and media’s videos to prove that he is one of the main accused. He has been charged under IPC sections 307 (attempt to murder) and 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) - both non-bailable, cognizable offences. The photo and video evidence will be submitted before the court,” the SP added.