Protests erupt after women break decades-long ban on entering Hindu temple

Hugh Fox
January 3, 2019

Two women, reported to be in their 40s, entered the Sabarimala hill temple in India's southern state of Kerala in the early hours of today, the state's chief minister said, raising fears of a backlash from conservative Hindu groups.

Two women entered the Sabarimala Temple in the early hours of the morning after the Women's Wall event.

Four transgender women, accompanied by police, were allowed to pray inside the Sabarimala shrine in December.

The Sabarimala temple historically barred women and girls aged 10 to 50 from entering, since a state court ruling in 1991.

A video posted online by the Indian news agency, ANI, showed the two women, Bindu and Kanaka Duraga, hurriedly walking towards the shrine wearing black clothes with their heads covered.

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Officials told the BBC that about five million women had helped to form the 385-mile (620km) chain, which stretched along the length of Kerala from its northern tip of Kasaragod to its southern end in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women formed a human chain across Kerala to back the demand for access to the temple.

Opponents of the ruling say the celibacy of the temple's presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is protected by India's Constitution, and that women of all ages can worship at other Hindu temples.

The police intervened and tried to provide women with safe passage to the shrine, resulting in clashes.

Protests across the state have since erupted and police have fired tear gas to disperse crowds.

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This comes after more than two months of the September 28 Supreme Court verdict lifting the ban on the entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine.

Kerala state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said: 'It is a fact that the women entered the shrine. Some Hindu communities regard menstruating women as unclean. Bindu said that they would trek to the temple since the cops had promised to escort them to the Sannidhanam.

"We reached Pampa, the main entry point to the temple at 1.30 a.m. and sought police protection to enter the temple". Noted activist G Mallika viewed this as a clear indication that the trouble in Sabarimala was created by right-wing activists who entered the hillock disguised as devotees. The temple is dedicated to the god Ayyappan, believed to be the son of Shiva and Vishnu.

The possibility of more confrontations was raised by a call from an umbrella group of right-wing Hindu groups in Kerala, the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, which is supported by the BJP, for a state-wide protest strike on Thursday.

On November 13 the Supreme Court agreed to hear challenges to its decision from January 22, but said that until then its September ruling stood.

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