Clashes break out after two women enter Indian temple

Minnie Murray
January 3, 2019

An estimated 5 million women in India joined forces to form a human chain to protest gender inequality and a Hindu temple's centuries-old ban on all women of "menstruating age".

Opposition Congress party activists burn an effigy of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reacting to reports of two women entering the Sabarimala temple, one of the world's largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.

"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 feminist author Meena Kandasamy on Twitter.

"This is a great way of saying how powerful women are, and how we can empower ourselves and help each other", protestor Kavita Das told BBC Hindi. "We are 100 percent sure that we didn't hurt people". The two women were accompanied by a group of policemen in civil uniform.

Despite the Supreme Court's verdict on September 28 past year, permitting women in the 10-50 age group, no children or young women in the "barred" group were able to offer prayers at the shrine following frenzied protests by a section of devotees and some right-wing outfits.

According to India's News Minute, "In what is being seen as a defining moment for feminist politics in Kerala, leaders and members from political parties, socio-political organizations, and progressive Hindu organizations, too, joined the event". The act was a showing of support of gender equality.

"After the entry of the two women, communal forces have unleashed violence across the state".

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, with several officers injured. He also said the state government "betrayed the sentiments of devotees".

Protests broke out in several places in Kerala state after the women entered the temple.

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

September's verdict was the latest progressive ruling from the court, with judges also overturning bans on gay sex and adultery previous year - posing a challenge to Modi's traditionalist BJP.

"This is treachery. The government will have to pay the price for the violation of the custom", K. Sudhakaran, vice-president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, said in a statement. "Some believe that's because such women are impure". The BJP will support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists.

Legend says that the goddess Malikapurathamma asked Ayyappa to marry her.

The entry by the two women is "a midnight drama carried out by the atheist [state] government", said Rahul Easwar, an activist leading the fight against the Supreme Court decision. In 2016, courts ruled in favor of a petition by women's rights group to enter the inner sanctum of a famous Muslim shrine in Mumbai.

Here follows some background on the temple and the landmark verdict.

Meanwhile, the police have stepped up security across the state in view of the hartal called by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi on Thursday and the appeal issued by merchants associations to defy it.

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