Shopkeepers’ union planned to open 70 stores, but shut down after police used tear gas to disperse the gathered crowds.

A few shops in Kozhikode Mithai Theruvu defy hartal but forced to shut after clashes
news Sabarimala Thursday, January 03, 2019 - 12:14

Kerala is witnessing a state-wide hartal on Thursday, called by groups that are protesting the entry of two women in their forties into Sabarimala on Wednesday. And traders’ associations, that decided to not give in to hartals and shutdowns this year, are in a difficult spot as several protests turn violent. In Kozhikode’s iconic Mithai Theruvu, also known as SM Street, a few shops had open in defiance of the dawn to dusk bandh. However, most of them were forced to shut after police resorted to tear gas shelling, as rival political groups started clashing with each other; only two shops are open now.

The state-wide hartal was called by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of anti-women’s entry activists, after two women below 50 years of age, Bindu and Kanakadurga, entered the hill shrine early on Wednesday morning. The Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi (VVES), a trade union of shopkeepers and store-owners all over Kerala, had announced on Wednesday that they would not be observing the hartal. The VVES had announced on December 20 that shopkeepers in Kerala would no longer cooperate with hartals called in the state, and declared that 2019 would be a year free of hartals in Kerala.

Beginning with a beauty store belonging to VVES President TA Ameerudheen, a few shops on Mithai Theruvu opened a little before 10 am on Thursday in the presence of VVES members. VVES members had planned to open at least 70 shops in the street at that point.

However, a number of rival BJP and DYFI workers soon arrived on the scene, with DYFI workers encouraging shopkeepers to open their stores, while BJP workers reportedly compelled them to close down. Two shops that had remained open faced damage to their glass storefronts after protesters threw stones at them.

Police officers, including the Kozhikode City Police Commissioner, had been posted throughout the winding lanes of the shopping area, and were reportedly keeping the rival political groups present there on opposite ends of the area. When the situation began to get out of hand, police used tear gas to disperse the political groups.

At the present time, only two stores on SM Street, including VVES President TA Ameerudheen’s, remain open.

Speaking to TNM, T Naseerudheen, VVES State president and Kozhikode in-charge said, “A protest against the Kerala government has turned into a protest against traders. As traders, we have neither interfered nor taken a stand against or on the Sabarimala issue. Soon after the hartal was announced, I called BJP State President Sreedharan Pillai, requesting him to exclude traders and merchants from the hartal. We also approached the Chief Minister’s Office to give us police protection, although we are aware of the low police strength in the current scenario. Though we could see police force on Wednesday, there is hardly any such arrangement in place on Thursday. We will raise this issue this year.”

Shops in a few places in Kozhikode district are opened, including Thamarassery. “In these places, in addition to the limited police protection, a few political parties have lent us support and decided to protect us,” he added.

Other districts

Despite the VVES plan not to observe hartals in 2019, many districts were forced to observe the shutdown on Thursday.

VVES Kannur General Secretary Jose Abraham told TNM, "Since Sabarimala temple is situated in Ranni taluk of Pathanamthitta District and since the hartal is over a communal issue, the traders decided not to open their shops on Thursday. We reached a consensus regarding this on Wednesday evening.”

Shops in Pallimukku, Kollam, opened on Thursday morning, following which BJP workers arrived in the area, protesting that the stores should be shut. However, police quickly arrived on the spot, and moved the protesters away. Shops in the area currently remain open, and more shops in the busy are are currently opening.

In Chala in Thiruvananthapuram, shopkeepers claim the they have not received the required police protection, which is why none of the shops in the busy shopping area have opened. Shopkeepers say that the estimated loss from one day of hartal in the area would cause a loss of 25 crore.

VVES Thiruvananthapuram President Rajiv Agraharam told TNM that the VVES asked for police protection last evening after some protestors threatened to burn several shops if they opened them on Thursday. Although the SI (Peroorkada Police Station) promised protection, he said if they face any threats, they will reach the spot and handle the situation. "Reaching the spot after the violence erupts is not the idea of providing police protection. Currently, only constables have been deployed at certain junctions."

Photographs and social media reports from other districts, like Idukki, show some shops remaining open in defiance of the hartal.

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