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Hindu hard-liners paralyze Indian state over women at shrine

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By Associated Press  with NBC News World News
Protests in Kerala, India
Protests in Kerala, India

NEW DELHI — Hindu hard-liners shut shops and businesses and clashed with police in a southern state Thursday to protest the entry of two women in one of India's largest Hindu pilgrimage sites.

Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party held protest marches in Kerala state as part of a strike call by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organization of Hindu groups.

Women of menstruating age were forbidden to pray at the temple until the Supreme Court lifted the ban in September. The ban was informal for many years, but became law in 1972.

Some devotees have filed a petition saying the court decision revoking the ban was an affront to celibate deity Ayyappa.

The two women entered the temple to pray early Wednesday. They were escorted by police because it is "the government's constitutional responsibility to give protection to women," said Pinarayi Vijayan, the state's top elected official.

He accused the BJP of triggering violence when police fired tear gas at several places to disperse stone-throwing mobs protesting the women's entry.

Vijayan told reporters on Thursday that 39 police officers were injured while trying to control the protesters, who also damaged 79 state-run buses in the state.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that a 55-year-old passerby who was seriously injured in rock throwing by protesters in Pandalam a town died later Wednesday.