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Women enter flashpoint Indian temple defying centuries-old ban

  • 2 Jan 2019

Two women entered a Hindu temple in Kerala early on Wednesday, a day after thousands of women formed a human chain across the southern state. India's Supreme Court last year voided the ban on women aged 10-50 from entering the temple.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus –– men, young girls and elderly women –– trek to the temple for an annual festival that usually falls around the end of the year. ( AP )

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

Police fired teargas and used water cannons to disperse a large crowd of protesters in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, television news channels showed.

There were protests in several other cities in the state, media reported.

TRT World's Philip Owira reports. 

India's Supreme Court in September ordered the lifting of the ban on women aged between 10 and 50 from entering the Sabarimala temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year.

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.

Media reports said the women entered the hilltop temple just before dawn with police security. 

"It is a fact that the women entered the shrine. Police are bound to offer protection to anyone wanting to worship at the shrine," Kerala state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.

He said the two women, who had previously tried but failed to enter the temple because their way was blocked by devotees, faced no obstruction on Wednesday.

Ruling party calls for protests

A local official from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party called for protests.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP)'s Kerala state president P S Sreedharan Pillai called it "a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples," and said his party will "support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists."

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

The temple was shut down for ritual "purification" for sometime before reopening, NDTV reported.

TRT World speaks with Mumbai-based journalist Rebecca Bundhun for more details.

Women's Wall

The development comes a day after tens of thousands of women formed a human chain across the state in support of the court order.

The 'Women's Wall' rally was backed by the communist government in Kerala state where the court order on Sabarimala temple has triggered weeks of protests by opponents and supporters of the ban.

Media reports and supporters of the initiative claimed hundreds of thousands of women formed a human chain across the 620-kilometre length of the state.

Supreme Court to hear challenges to its ruling

Kerala has become the venue of an angry showdown between Hindu traditionalists and far-right groups and supporters of September's ruling.

Several women have since tried to reach the hilltop shrine but been forced back by opposing activists. Police have clashed with devotees supporting the ban and have arrested more than 2,000 people.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus – men, young girls and elderly women – trek to the temple for an annual festival that usually falls around the end of the year.

The Supreme Court is to hear challenges to its landmark ruling from January 22.

Many Hindu groups and BJP oppose the ruling. They argue that the court has ignored their beliefs that the deity Ayyappa was celibate.

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