Statewide Strike in Kerala Tomorrow Over Entry of Women Devotees in Shrine

Some 5 Million Indian Women Form Massive Human Chain for Gender Equality (PHOTO)

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday confirmed that two women, in the barred age group, have entered the Lord Ayyappa Shrine in Sabarimala early morning on Wednesday.

The organizations which throughout the season-since the shrine opened for Thulam monthly pooja, on October 17 in the just-ended year- succeeded in preventing menstruating women from entering the shrine were quite obviously unguarded when Bindu and Kanakadurga, hailing from Koyilandi and Perinthalmanna, managed to sneak into the shrine, jettisoning a tradition strictly upheld by right-wing organizations and conservatives. Per the BBC, protesters have since attacked women who've attempted to enter the temple. But all turned back after facing threats and physical intimidation by protesters.

The move, however, did not go down well with the devotees, with Sabarimala head priest Kandaru Rajeevaru ordering that the temple be shut till 11.30am for "purification" rituals.

Religiously fueled protests escalated in the Indian state of Kerala on Wednesday, with police charging Hindu worshipers with batons and using tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades to disperse rioters in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram.

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

The two women had tried and failed to enter the temple on December 24, and later approached police for help, an officer said.

Protests broke out in several places in the state after the women entered the temple. Raising voice against the shutdown, tourism industry representatives, including Kerala Tourism Task Force convener Abraham George, said the sector was gradually returning to normal after last August's deluge.

Congress and BJP leaders have described the entry of the two women into the temple as a result of a conspiracy hatched by the government and termed it as a betrayal of the devotees. None of the other worshipers "had any problems with us visiting the shrine". "We walked two hours, entered the temple around 3.30am and did the darshan", the woman said, referring to a ritual of standing in front of the temple's Hindu image.

To reach the temple, devotees must walk almost three miles uphill, and Hariharan began the trek at midnight. Noted activist G Mallika viewed this as a clear indication that the trouble in Sabarimala was created by right-wing activists who entered the hillock disguised as devotees. Four policemen in civilian clothes also accompanied them.

Prasad Amore, a psychologist based in Kerala who was part of the group, said the journey was not a political statement. Pandalam erstwhile royal Shashi Verma said that the women's entry into Sannidhanam was not historic, but against the customs of Sabarimala.

Many Hindu groups and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) oppose the ruling.

One such viral photo was that of two women, one clad in a burqa, holding placards.

The Supreme Court has agreed to re-examine its decision to lift the ban, after numerous legal challenges were brought against it. The controversy over Sabarimala is not the first time the entry of women in religious spaces has sparked debate in India.

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