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Nine things to know about women entering India’s Sabarimala temple

  • 2 Jan 2019

Two Indian women made history by entering a Kerala temple where females between 10 and 50 years old were previously forbidden. Here’s what you need to know about the incident.

Indian protesters carry a picture of Hindu deity Lord Ayyappa at a demonstration following the entry of two women at the Sabarimala temple in Kochi in Kerala state (January 2, 2019). ( AFP )

1. The Sabarimala temple, unlike other Hindu temples that allow women in as long as they’re not menstruating, has traditionally banned women of “menstruating age” —  between 10 and 50 years old.

2. Lord Ayyappa is the presiding deity of the Sabarimala temple. He is considered to be a celibate god who vowed to shun all worldly desires. 

3. The two women  —  Bindu Ammini, 42, from Perinthalmanna and Kanaka Durga, 44, from Kannur —  entered the shrine on Wednesday at around 3:30-3:45 am local time and offered their prayers to Lord Ayyappa. 

They were accompanied by plainclothes policemen to protect them from protesters, even though they didn’t publicise their journey which began at midnight. The women said they encountered no trouble at the temple.

Hindu devotees wait inside the premises of the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state of Kerala, India. October 17, 2018.(Reuters)

4. India’s Supreme Court on September 28, 2018, lifted the ban against girls and women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple, citing rights to equality of worship.

5. “The government has no intention to take women to the temple by any means. But at the same time, the government is bound to abide by the Supreme Court verdict," Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan said on December 31, 2018.

“Some women who wanted to visit the shrine later changed their mind seeing the protests. But if they want to go ahead disregarding the protests, the police will give protection to them,” he added.

6. Although the women were allowed to pray, priests at Sabarimala temple later performed purification rituals, saying the women had “defiled” the temple.

7. On New Year’s Day, thousands of women formed a human chain across Kerala state. The 620-kilometre “Women’s Wall” was formed in a show of support for the Supreme Court order.

8. The Supreme Court will hear challenges to its landmark ruling, starting January 22.

Indian women stand in a line to form a human chain in Kochi, in Kerala. January 1, 2019.(AFP)

9. The people who challenged the Supreme Court’s September ruling say the ban against women is part of their faith, which should not be judged according to science, rational reasons or logic, the Hindustan Times reports. They argue that the decision to keep women out of the temple is based on the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa.

They say a secular court should have no say over religious matters. The landmark decision to lift the ban against women was handed down by a five-judge bench with only one dissenting voice, the lone female judge. 

Justice Indu Malhotra argued the court had no business regulating religion unless it was preventing malignant or harmful practices.

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