Violent demonstrations broke out in the Indian state of Kerala after two women entered a Hindu temple, following the lifting of a longstanding ban on women of menstruating age — between 10 and 50.
Although the supreme court lifted the prohibition three months ago, traditionalists have obstructed every effort by the local Communist government to allow female devotees to enter Sabarimala temple — sometimes violently. Earlier in the day, thousands of women had joined forces to form a 385-mile human wall and demand equal access to the Sabarimala shrine.
Following the “women’s wall” protest, Bindu and Kanaka Durga, both in their 40s, entered the temple under police protection and offered prayers to the deity Lord Ayyappa. Media reports said the two women started the long uphill trek through forests to the temple at about midnight and reached it at about 4am, according to the Guardian. Priests later closed the temple for several hours to conduct ancient rituals to remove the “polluting” female presence.
As protests erupted, traditionalists took to the streets, waving black flags, throwing stones and obstructing traffic outside government buildings in various locations across the state, before being dispersed by police armed with teargas and water cannons. Supporters of India’s ruling, conservative Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) who are opposed to women praying at the Sabarimala temple, were confronted by members of the Communist party (CPI(M)), which rules Kerala and believe women of all ages should enjoy freedom of worship.
Chandran Unnithan, 55, who was injured in clashes that took place in Pandalam on Wednesday later died.
The BJP’s head in Kerala, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, called the women’s temple visit “a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples,” as well as “a conspiracy between the women and the government.” while some Hindu groups have called for a state-wide strike on Thursday to protest against the temple’s “defilement.” The police anticipate more conflict on the streets during the strike.
Have the Communists desecrated Sabarimala shrine by facilitating entry of women of restricted age group into the temple? Devastating, if true.
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) January 2, 2019
On Tuesday, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said that the ban was a matter of religious belief and not gender equality.
On 22 January, the supreme court will hear a handful of petitions asking it to cancel its earlier ruling.
See footage of Bindu and Kanaka Durga enter the Sabarimala temple in the NDTV report below: