After Sabarimala,now women look to venture Agasthyamala

After Sabarimala, many women are gearing up to venture into the 1,868-metre Agasthyarkoodam mountain peak, about 40 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram city, breaking the decade's old ban, that too in the name of a celibate deity.

The Kani tribal community of the area has already expressed strong reservations towards women entry and are launching a demonstration on the lines of the Nama Japa Yajna organised by various Hindu outfits to resist entry of women in the 10-50 age group to Sabarimala.

Situated on the Kerala - Tamilnadu border, trekking to the mountain peak is allowed only for around 45 days annually. This time it is from January 14 to March 1. As per the faith, the presiding deity of the Agasthyarkoodam mountain peak, Agasthya Muni, is a celibate like Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala. Members of the local Kani tribal community consider Agasthya Muni as the King of Kanis. It was based on this faith that women were so far banned from trekking, despite strong demands. Safety of the women was also used to be cited as a justification for this ban as the trekking will require at least two days.

The Kerala High Court on November 30, 2018 lifted the ban on women considering a petition by a couple of women's forums including Women Integration and Growth Through Sports (WINGS) and Pennorumma (Women collective). The court maintained that if trekking was allowed at Agastyarkoodam, women should be also allowed and there should not be any gender discrimination. The Kerala Government's Forest Department opened online bookings for trekking, with no bars on women, from January 5. Only children below 14 were banned owing to safety and health reasons. Owing to the restriction of 100 persons per day, there has been a mad rush for tickets and it almost got exhausted. 

Rejitha G, a women's rights activist, is among the many women who already got the trekking passes. "I am really excited to be among the foremost to trek the Agastyarkoodam hills. To my knowledge 20 or more women already got the passes," Rajitha, who is associated with Thiruvananthapuram-based Sakhi Women’s Resource Center, told DH. She also said that the women were aware of the challenges in the trekking and were getting physically and mentally prepared.

Kani tribal leader Mohanan Triveni Kani said that since the High Court allowed women, they would not try to forcibly prevent women who turn up for trekking. "We will be organising Agasthyarkooda Gothra Achara Samrakshana Yajnam offering prayers to Agasthya Muni. We don't have any agenda of forcibly preventing women as the HC allowed the women to the mountains," Mohan told DH.

However, there were reports that a section of members of tribal communities were trying to block women at Bonnacaud, which is the entry point to the trekking path.

Meanwhile, women activists were concerned that like in the case of Sabarimala, the Sangh Parivar outfits may try to make political advantage from it. Leading right's activist K Ajitha said that the government and police should ensure adequate protection to the women who venture for trekking. "The women need not be going to worship the deity, but for trekking, which is a sport," she said.

The Kani tribal community had no objections towards women going up to the base camp Athiramala. They firmly believe that no woman so far ventured to the mountain peak. But many women's rights activists said that women researches had visited the peak earlier. Researchers are allowed around the year in the mountains, which is one of the two Biosphere Reserve in Kerala listed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Forest department sources said that setting up additional or separate facilities to women for trekking and night halt was nearly impossible in the ecologically sensitive area. "We have even strictly limited the number of trekkers to 100 per day owing to the sensitivity of the area and restricted the entry though online tickets only," said a Forest Department official.

The fee for the pass is Rs. 1,000 persons. Trekkers will be taken in groups of around 10. Forest guides will be accompanying each group.


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After Sabarimala,now women look to venture Agasthyamala


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