Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Third woman enters flashpoint Hindu temple in south India

Top court lifted ban on women entering Sabarimala in Kerala state but conservatives objected to letting them in

Police arrest an activist after women entered the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi in southern Kerala state, on January 4, 2019. AFP
Police arrest an activist after women entered the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi in southern Kerala state, on January 4, 2019. AFP

A third woman has entered the Sabarimala Hindu temple in southern India, police said on Friday after two days of clashes involving religious hardliners and police that were triggered by two women entering the temple on Wednesday.

The Sabarimala temple in Kerala state has been at the centre of a prolonged showdown since India's top court overturned in September a ban on women aged 10 to 50 setting foot inside.

Before dawn on Wednesday two women in their 40s, escorted by police, wrong-footed devotees to become the first to access the shrine since the Supreme Court verdict, sneaking in via a side entrance. They remained under police protection on Friday.

The third woman to enter the temple, on Thursday night, was from Sri Lanka, police said.

"She entered the temple yesterday night. She is 47 years old and came as a devotee. We were aware and watched the situation," said Balram Kumar Upadhyay, a police official.

Mr Upadhyay said that the situation at the temple on Friday was "normal for now".

Thousands of Hindu hardliners, many of them female, had prevented women from reaching the temple in the weeks after the court ruling, with some hardliners throwing stones at police and assaulting female journalists.


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Wednesday's news sparked uproar among Hindu devotees, including many in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who believe that women of menstruating age should not enter the temple because the deity it is dedicated to, Ayyappa, was celibate.

Clashes on Wednesday and Thursday between devotees, activists of Kerala's ruling leftist alliance and riot police firing tear gas and water cannon, left one man dead and at least 15 people injured, including four who were stabbed.

Police said that 1,369 people had been arrested, and that the situation on the ground on Friday was peaceful but tense.

Much of the sporadic violence reportedly took place as Hindu hardliners tried to force shopkeepers to comply with a dawn-til-dusk "hartal", or shutdown, called by the Sabarimala temple hierarchy.

On Tuesday tens of thousands of women, in an initiative backed by the state government, had formed a huge human chain called the "Women's Wall" across Kerala to back the demand for access.

The Supreme Court is to start hearing a legal challenge on its temple ruling - the latest in a series of verdicts to upset traditionalists and reflect a more liberal outlook in Indian society - from January 22.

Women are barred from a handful of Hindu temples in India. The entry of women of menstruating age to Sabarimala was taboo for generations and formalised by the Kerala High Court in 1991.

Updated: January 4, 2019 03:52 PM