Published: Thu, January 03, 2019
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

Protests in India after women defy ban on visiting temple

Protests in India after women defy ban on visiting temple

The temple, which attracts millions of Hindu pilgrims each year, is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, "a Hindu god who devotees believe is celibate and can not have contact with women of menstruating age", writes NPR's Lauren Frayer. Protesters blocked several roads and threw stones at law enforcement officials, sparking clashes, said Kumar, the police spokesman, adding that police fired tear gas to quell the violence.

Last September, however, India's Supreme Court ruled that all women had the right to worship at Sabarimala, which sits in a tiger reserve in the state of Kerala and draws tens of millions of visitors each year.

The attempts to enter the temple and resulting protests have become a flashpoint as some Hindu hardliners in the nationalist BJP-led country try to defend what they see as core values in Hindu-majority India.

Police with batons also charged at protesters who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops in the area called for by the Sabarimala temple hierarchy. Hours later, the chief priest or the "thantri" abruptly closed the temple doors for about an hour to conduct the purification rituals.

India protesters carry a picture of the Hindu deity Ayyappa at a demonstration following the entry of two women at the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi in southern Kerala state on January 2, 2019.

Young women who have done online booking should also be allowed to go to the shrine and pray there, she said.

"There was an elaborate arrangement for them to come just after the temple was opened early morning", said the officer, who declined to be identified fearing reprisals from protesters.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed the reports and said, "Yes, it's true, the women have had the temple darshan". "Some believe that's because such women are impure".

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Traditionalists have also argued that the temple deity, Ayyappa, was celibate.

On the same day, thousands of women took part in the state-wide protest by forming a 620 kilometer (385 mile) human chain, termed the "women's wall", calling for gender equality and access to the Ayyappa temple.

On January 22, the Supreme Court will hear a petition challenging its landmark ruling on the temple.

Legend says that the goddess Malikapurathamma asked Ayyappa to marry her. "Lots of women have been visiting the temple after the verdict". He said he would only do so if first-time devotees decide not to visit him - which has never happened.

The head of the BJP party in Kerala, P.S Sreedharan Pillai, slammed the women's visit as a "conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples". Instead the state is run by a coalition of left-wing parties which have said they will enforce the court ruling.

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.

India's Supreme Court ordered a lifting of the ban in September.

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