Thu, Jan 03, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Clashes break out after two women enter Indian temple

AFP, THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India

A priest closes the doors of the Ayyappa shrine at the Sabarimala Temple in Kochi, India, after performing “purification” rituals yesterday following the entry of two women.

Photo: AFP

Indian police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons as protests and clashes erupted across the southern state of Kerala after two women entered the flashpoint Sabarimala Temple, local media reported.

Violent clashes were reported between scores of people in front of the state parliament in Thiruvananthapuram, while protests with sporadic violence were also reported in several other towns across the state.

The two women entered the temple before dawn yesterday — the first time that females aged 10 to 50 have set foot inside since the Indian Supreme Court overturned a ban in September last year.

A tense standoff lasting more than four hours in Thiruvananthapuram was ongoing, with neither side showing any sign of backing down as rival groups shouted slogans.

Police with batons also charged at protesters who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops in the area. Several police officers were injured as protesters threw stones.

Traditionalists over the past few months have stopped women from trying to enter the hilltop temple site, at times violently.

The high priest of the temple carried out a “purification ritual” after the women defied Hindu traditionalists to sneak inside for the first time since a landmark court ruling.

In a surprise predawn operation heralded by activists, but opposed by conservative devotees, police enabled the two women, both 42, to enter the hilltop temple and then leave again undetected, officials said.

Video images showed the women, Kanaka Durga and Bindu, who has only one name, wearing black tunics with their heads bowed as they rushed in.

“We did not enter the shrine by climbing the 18 holy steps, but went through the staff gate,” one of the women, who both remain under police guard, later told reporters.

“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.

September’s verdict was the latest progressive ruling from the court, with judges also overturning bans on gay sex and adultery last year — posing a challenge to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s traditionalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The restriction on women at Sabarimala, situated on top of a 915m hill in a tiger reserve that takes hours to climb, reflects a belief — not exclusive to Hinduism — that menstruating women are impure.

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

In October last year, devotees clashed with police in a town near the temple leading to the arrest of more than 2,000 people.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women formed a human chain across Kerala to back the demand for access to the temple.

Media reports said that some were heckled by right-wing activists.

The Supreme Court is to start hearing a legal challenge to its ruling on Jan. 22.

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