Women enter flashpoint Indian temple defying centuries-old ban

Some 5 Million Indian Women Form Massive Human Chain for Gender Equality (PHOTO)

Some 5 Million Indian Women Form Massive Human Chain for Gender Equality (PHOTO)

Protestors block traffic and shout slogans reacting to reports of two women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala temple, one of the world's largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.

Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon as protests and clashes between rival groups erupted across the southern state of Kerala, local media reported. Several policemen were injured as protestors threw stones.

In September, India's highest court overturned a historical ban on women of "menstruating age", defined to be between ages 10 and 50, from entering the state's Sabarimala shrine.

Footage has emerged showing part of the human chain in the city of Thrissur after the "women's wall" was organised by Kerala state's left-wing coalition government on Tuesday.

The issue has become increasingly contentious in the run-up to India's general election, scheduled for April and May.

But India's ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has argued that the ruling is an attack on Hindu values.

The BJP called for protesters to be peaceful. The country's Supreme Court ordered the temple to lift the ban past year, but no woman below 50 had been able to get in, until today.

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"Let all the devotees come forward and protest this", Mr Pillai told local television news channels.

K. Sudhakaran, vice president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, released a statement which accused the government of "treachery", adding that they will "pay the price" for violating the religious custom. The ban has been imposed on all women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50. Bindu told media that they entered the temple via the VIP lounge and did not take the traditional "pathinettam padi" (holy steps leading to sanctum sanctorum). The fact that the chief priest did not take the permission of the Travancore Devaswom Board (which administers the temple) or the state cabinet before conducting the rituals raised the urgency of the matter. Bindu, 44, from Perinthalmanna and Kanaka Durga, 42, from Kannur, began their climb towards the abode of Lord Ayyappa at midnight and reached the shrine only after 3.45 am on Wednesday.

The temple has been at the centre of an increasingly angry showdown between Hindu traditionalists who support the longstanding ban and women activists who oppose it.

The pair entered the hilltop temple in Kerala state just before dawn under police protection and left undetected, officials confirmed.

The entry of the two women into Sabarimala led to sporadic protests across the state on Wednesday. The two women were accompanied by a group of policemen in civil uniform.

But the temple refused to abide by the ruling and subsequent attempts by women to visit it had been blocked by thousands of devotees.

On Tuesday, over 35 lakh women stood shoulder-to- shoulder across the national highways in Kerala, creating a 620 km-long human "wall" from the northern end of Kasaragod to the state's southern tip.

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