‘Pepper spray’ attack on woman as Trupti Desai arrives in Kochi for Sabarimala pilgrimage

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Bindu Ammini, rights activist, arguing with police outside the City Police Commissioner's Office in Kochi on Tuesday morning.
Bindu Ammini, rights activist, arguing with police outside the City Police Commissioner’s Office in Kochi on Tuesday morning.

Bindu Ammini, who offered prayers at Sabarimala temple under police security last year, attacked outside Kochi Commissionerate office; Activists seeking police protection to visit shrine

High drama unfolded in the city when six women activists led by Pune-based Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai descended here early on Tuesday with the objective of offering ‘darshan’ at the hilltop Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala.

Bindu Ammini, who had managed to offer prayers at Sabarimala Temple under police security last year, was sprayed with a liquid, seemingly pepper spray, on her face at the Kochi Commissionerate office.

Earlier, the team arrived at the Cochin International Airport Limited at Nedumbassery by the Indigo Airline flight from Pune at 4.17 a.m. Their arrival went completely under the radar as the visit was kept under the wraps unlike more than a year back when Ms. Desai and her entourage were restricted to the airport by protesters of the Sangh Parivar outfits. They had to make a retreat after a more than 13 hours standoff.

The team comprising six from Maharashtra and one from Delhi was joined outside the airport by Ms. Ammini.

The team reportedly arrived at the Nedumbassery police station demanding protection for their pilgrimage around 4.40 a.m. However, they were turned away following which they left claiming to be on their way to Pampa before springing a surprise by turning up at Kochi Commissionerate office near Ernakulam boat jetty around 6.30 a.m.

They made it to the eighth floor office of the Inspector General of Police and District Police Chief (Kochi City) Vijay Sakhare who, incidentally, is away in Thiruvananthapuram attending a meeting.

Things, which were very peaceful till then turned nasty when Ms. Ammini emerged out of the office around 7.15 a.m. reportedly to fetch some documents from the car by which they had come. A bearded man clad in whites followed Ms. Ammini and sprayed the liquid on her face.

Attacker arrested

Shortly, video footage of the attack started making rounds in the media clearly showing how the assailant continuously sprayed the liquid at Ms. Ammini’s face and ran away.

The person was later identified as Sreenath Padmanabhan, a resident of Thaliparambu in Kannur, and was arrested by the police. More details about him were yet to be known.

Ms. Ammini reacted firmly and even hit the assailant on his back with her fist even as she kept demanding a few police personnel present on the scene to arrest him.

She complained that police hardly did anything to stop the assault and even rubbed the liquid on the side of the face of a woman reporter as a proof of how she was sprayed with some liquid.

“Being someone used with pepper I can tell you that it wasn’t pepper spray but something stronger and I am still experiencing some burning sensation,” said Asha Javed, reporter with a Malayalam news channel.

Ms. Ammini was later taken to Ernakulam General Hospital after complaining of discomfort.

Confirming the arrest of the assailant, Mr. Sakhare told The Hindu over phone that Additional Commissioner K.P. Philip would hold talks with the activists cocooned in the visiting room of his office. “They can tell him whatever their demand be,” he said.

C.G. Rajagopal, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s local leader and the party candidate in the by-election to the assembly from Ernakulam, was present outside the Commissionerate office when the nasty scenes were played out.

“We having nothing to do with the person picked by the police for the attack. Let police inquire about him,” said Mr. Rajagopal claimed.

As media started flashing the news of the dramatic developments more protesters claiming to be Ayyappa devotees converged outside the Commissionerate and laid a siege chanting Ayyappa hymns.

Police deployed

Heavy police force under Assistant Commissioners S.T. Suresh Kumar and P. Suresh was also deployed in front of the office. Police also held talks with the leaders of Hindu organisations who arrived at the scene and cordoned off the office compound keeping the protesters outside the gate.

Mr. Philip arrived at 9.25 a.m. but declined to comment on the episode. Asked whether police would offer protection, he said that no decision had been taken yet. He then went to the office of the District Police Chief ( Kochi City) to talk with the six activists who were by now under a siege by Ayyappa hymn-chanting protesters akin to what was played out at the Kochi airport a year ago.

A couple of minutes later P.N. Ramesh Kumar, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Administration), also joined him.

It is also learned that Special Branch officers were collecting details from a television channel reporter who had accompanied the activists from Pune.

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