Sabarimala: Indian women make history by entering temple

Charlene Craig
January 3, 2019

Two women defied a centuries-old ban on entering a Hindu temple in the Indian state of Kerala on Wednesday, sparking rowdy protests and calls for a strike by conservative Hindu groups outraged by their visit.

The Samiti, which is spearheading protests against the Supreme Court's September 28 verdict allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine, urged people to cooperate with them in their protest.

The temple has been at the centre of weeks of showdowns between Hindu devotees supporting the ban and women activists who have been forced back several times from Sabarimala. Hours later, the chief priest or the "thantri" abruptly closed the temple doors for about an hour to conduct the purification rituals. The ban was informal for many years, but became law in 1972.

Malappuram resident Kanakadurga, 46, and Kozhikode local Bindu said that they began climbing the steps to Lord Ayyappa shrine around midnight and reached the temple at 3:45 am for darshan. Officers escorted the two women to the hilltop temple because of "police responsibility to provide protection to any devotee irrespective of gender", Kumar said.

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'Watching the visuals of them making their way into the shrine makes me cry in joy - how long it has taken for us to claim space, to write our way into history, ' wrote controversial feminist author Meena Kandasamy on Twitter. Protesters also clashed with police and some were later detained. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

On Tuesday, a 620-km human wall was formed by women in Kerala "in support of gender equality" from Kasargod in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.

Organisers of the "women's wall" protest - set up by India's left-wing coalition government - had predicted a turnout of three million.

The Supreme Court has agreed to re-examine its decision to lift the ban later this month in response to 49 petitions filed against it. They have become the first women to offer prayers at Sanctum sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa shrine since the Supreme Court overturned the centuries-old tradition previous year. A report said the temple opened in the afternoon after completion of the ritual. The entry of women at Sabarimala was taboo for generations and formalised by the Kerala High Court in 1991.

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The campaign was sparked by controversy over a court ruling to allow women into the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala.

The incident prompted officials from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to call for protests.

NSS, which has filed a review plea in the Supreme Court challenging its verdict, expressed hope that the top court would take a favourable decision.

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