Sunday, 24 March, 2019

Protests Turn Violent After Women Defy Temple Ban in India

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Two women in their 40s entered the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala early on Wednesday and offered prayers at the shrine, where women of menstruating age are traditionally not allowed. Clashes broke out between protesters and the police in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, on Wednesday afternoon.

Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the shrine after the CPI (M)-led LDF government made a decision to implement the apex court verdict allowing all women to offer prayers at the temple.

The religious conflict has been fueling a political standoff between the far-left parties ruling Kerala and the right-wing nationalist BJP which holds power at the federal level.

Police with batons also charged at protesters who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops in the area.

Public bus services were suspended after protesters blocked their path and pelted vehicles with stones. The local state government helped the women enter the temple, and defended their decision to do so in a news conference as "a matter of civil rights".

The temple head ordered the shrine closed for a purification ritual after news of the women's entry spread.

The country's Supreme Court ordered the temple to lift the ban a year ago, but no woman below 50 had been able to get in, until today.

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

On December 24 a year ago, the two women had unsuccessfully tried to offer prayers at the shrine.

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The leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the entry of the women into the shrine "hurt" the sentiments of devotees.

Kerala's top elected official, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, told reporters that under the Supreme Court order, police were bound to safeguard worshippers.

The Supreme Court lifted a ban in September on women worshipping at Sabarimala temple in Kerala state.

A number of Muslim women also took part in the campaign and they carried banners with messages like "neither we are impure nor second rate citizens". They argue that the court has ignored their beliefs that the deity Ayyappa was celibate. Police have clashed with devotees supporting the ban and have arrested more than 2,000 people.

On Tuesday, over 35 lakh women stood shoulder-to- shoulder across the national highways in Kerala, creating a 620 km-long human "wall" from the northern end of Kasaragod to the state's southern tip.

Later, media reported it had reopened.

At 12 Ayyappa revealed his divinity when he emerged from the forest riding a tigress. He said he would only do so if first-time devotees decide not to visit him - which has never happened.

In recent weeks Hindu traditionalists - backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - have prevented attempts by women to access the hilltop site, with some hardliners turning violent.

The BJP is not in power in Kerala.

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