Entry of women into India temple sparks outcry, clashes

Indian police officers, near the Police Commissioner’s Office in Kochi, India, carry away an individual protesting the entry of two women into a temple, on January 2, 2019. (Photo by AFP)
Indian police officers, near the Police Commissioner’s Office in Kochi, India, carry away an individual protesting the entry of two women into a temple, on January 2, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Extremist Hindu protesters and Indian police have clashed in the southern state of Kerala for a second consecutive day after two women defied tradition to enter a temple.

The violent clashes continued on Thursday, a day after police escorted the two women — both in their 40s — to step foot in the gold-plated Sabarimala Ayyapa temple, one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines, located on a hilltop near the port city of Kochi.

Kerala police said on Thursday that a man who died in clashes on Wednesday was part of a rally organized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — which is not part of Kerala’s state government — in the town of Pandalam.

“His injuries were serious and he died late Wednesday night. At least 15 others were injured in incidents across the state,” further said police spokesman Pramod Kumar, adding that the victim had been hit by stones thrown at protestors.

On Wednesday, police fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades at protesters to disperse them. They also used water cannon after demonstrations turned violent and clashes broke out between rival groups.

Kerala remained tense on Thursday, with additional riot police forces deployed, and according to media, four people were stabbed in clashes across the volatile state.

Indian supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) march during a protest rally over the entry of two women into a temple in Kochi, India, on January 3, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

According to the temple’s strict rules, women of menstruating age — deemed as those aged between 10 and 50 — are not allowed to enter the holy site. However, India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September 28, triggering an outcry from the Hindu devotees across the state.

Since the court’s ruling, thousands of devotees, many of them female, have successfully thwarted attempts of menstruating women and girls to enter the shrine, citing the celibate nature of the Sabarimala Ayyapa temple’s “presiding deity,” Lord Ayyappa.

Separately on Thursday, the Sabarimala Karma Samiti (SKS), an umbrella organization of Hindu outfits opposing the entry of women into the temple, called a state-wide shutdown, further complicating the already tense situation.

Two shutdowns have so far been called in Kerala since the controversial verdict.

Indian women hold out their hands as they stand in a line to take part in a “women’s wall” protest in Kochi in southern Kerala State on January 1, 2019, when tens of thousands of women formed a human chain across the southern Indian state in support of a court order overturning a partial ban on women under the age of 50 entering the Sabarimala Ayyapa Temple, one of Hinduism’s holiest temples. (Photo by AFP)

According to Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the two daring women — Bindu Ammini, a teacher, and activist Kanakadurga — prayed at the temple with police help.

“Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will go down in the history as a traitor. He hurt religious sentiments of millions of devotees. He used a cheap trick to flout the age-old custom and insulted devotees,” said SKS leader K P Sasikala in a statement, adding that all Hindu outfits would continue their protest activities until Vijayan steps down.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women, in a local government-supported initiative, braved harassment to form a huge human chain called the “Women’s Wall” across the southern province to support the demand for access of women of all ages to the temple.

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