On 17 December 2022, a group of Islamists, hijab & burqa clad ladies included, reportedly harassed, threatened, and pushed around Ayyappa Swamy Sabarimala pilgrims going back to Andhra Pradesh. Some of those who bullied the Hindu devotees later uploaded videos of the incident online and claimed victimization.
These pilgrims were on their way home from Sabarimala Darshanam and boarded 12625 / 12626 Kerala Superfast Express from Chengannur railway station. Locally called the KK Express, it is a daily superfast express train that runs between Thiruvananthapuram and New Delhi. It is the longest-running daily Superfast train of Indian Railways (3027 km). The KK Express is one of the few trains from Kerala that move through Andhra Pradesh. The rest use the Konkan Railway route that cuts through Karnataka.
The Ayyappa pilgrims who were reportedly harassed had confirmed non-AC reservation sleeper tickets. Even though a lady Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) arrived, the Islamists did not budge. She could not resolve the issue. The Hindu pilgrims had to wait for at least seven to eight hours before they got to lie down on their reserved berths.
Why the Railway Protection Force was not called to eject the unruly Islamists is unknown. Also unknown is why other Keralite Hindu travelers did not stand up for the Ayyappa devotees while they were threatened with physical violence.
Can we get a berth without reservation? Yes, one can convert an ordinary ticket into a sleeper ticket if the berth is vacant. The TTE will collect the rate difference and issue a receipt. One does not barge in, create a ruckus, and force others to vacate their reserved berths. Well, that is precisely what appears to have happened in this case.
The Islamist group were heard threatening that Ayyappa devotees from Andhra Pradesh will be beaten up. Such an attitude does not auger well for lakhs of Keralites who work outside Kerala, especially in Andhra Pradesh. Usually, the TTE (she arrived later) would have thrown out such unruly characters just for their ignorance of Railway laws. She could have informed the Railway Protection Force. Unfortunately, these rowdies were allowed to continue their journey. Such incidents hint at growing Talibanization of Kerala.
Incidentally, some among the Islamists recorded the episode, added a neat voiceover painting the Hindu devotees as ‘goons from Andhra Pradesh,’ and uploaded the same on social media. They also alleged that the pilgrims pulled the emergency chain and stopped the train. It is being said that Railway Police fined the exhausted Hindu Ayyappa devotees, instead of instead of punishing the Islamist hooligans!
A little known film production company, SA Media based out of Thuravoor Thekku near Cherthala in Alappuzha district, which has little online presence, did this. They added several rants against the Railways and ‘wholesalers of Hindutva who rule Bharat’ (BJP/RSS).
Though the local media shunned the incident, it seems to have caught Bharatiya Railway’s attention. On 31 December, Thiruvananthapuram Division came out with a circular. Daytime sleeper tickets were discontinued in trains departing from Thiruvananthapuram Central Station. The night vigil is much better anyway, and such unruly elements with unreserved tickets are not even allowed to board reserved coaches.
It meant unreserved passengers would no longer board sleeper train coaches during the day. Railways clarified that the new decision is due to the complaint that the sleeper ticket holders are taking over the berths of the reserved passengers.
Growing Islamist hold over Kerala
Train travel through Kerala is time-consuming. While some trains take an astonishing 12 hours to cover the 575 km odd journey across the state, the average time is ten hours. Appeasement politics, especially under now-dead Islamist leaders like E Ahmed, meant trains stopped every ten km. He was the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) MP from Malappuram and the Minister of State for Railways between 2009 to 2011.
Way back in 2009, Organiser reported that Ahmed’s close relative was a suspect in the Bengaluru blasts and was hiding in the Gulf, courtesy of Ahmed and UPA! Ahmed and former Minister PK Kunhalikutty were the alleged kingpins of the “Marad Massacre’ where eight Hindu fishermen were hacked to death near Kozhikode in May 2003.
Ahmed forced the police to open the sealed Marad Mosque (where blood-drenched murder weapons were hidden) and offered namaz. Allegedly, he and his henchmen destroyed crucial evidence. Communists, Congress leaders who ruled Kerala then, and the district collector Mohammad Siraj alias T O Sooraj also played a role in this conspiracy.
Ahmed had a history of communal bias and used his Railway Ministry for anti-Hindu agendas. He instructed the Railways not to do Ganesha puja, havan, breaking of coconut, etc., before starting new trains and inauguring tracks and bridges. He is also alleged to have banned the lighting of traditional oil lamps during inaugurations. Garlanding of trains and anointing them with sandal paste and sindoor was forbidden.
Railway stations were discouraged from doing puja during ‘Vijayadasami’ and ‘Durga puja.’ He also ordered the closure of temples in Railway compounds and demolished several, it is claimed. Ahmed was especially harsh on Sabarimala pilgrims who, at that time, arrived in crores. Bharatiya Railways denied them even basic amenities.
All this happened while crores were spent on ‘Haj’ from public coffers, including the Hundi collections from Sabarimala. Ahmed’s anti-Hindu moves caused deep resentment and anger among the 25 lakhs railway staff and Hindus. Even today, some radical Islamists still consider the Railways that run through Kerala as their own.