Kerala erupts as two women enter Sabarimala temple

Policemen chase away a demonstrator during a protest against the entry of two women to the Sabarimala temple, in Thiruvananthapuram on January 2, 2019. PTI

Two women in their forties set foot inside the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala in the early hours of Wednesday, setting off violent protests across Kerala.

The temple was closed for an hour and purification rituals done.

Protests and violence erupted after Bindu Hariharan from Kozhikode and Kanaka Durga from Malappuram became the first women to visit the temple and offer prayers before the celibate Lord, after the Supreme Court in September 2018 lifted the restrictions imposed on women in the 10-50 age group. They entered the shrine around 3.45 am with plainclothes policemen as cover.

The two had earlier made an unsuccessful bid on December 24. After trekking halfway on the nearly 4.5-km path, both were forced by the police to return.

Bindu is a lawyer by profession and an assistant professor at a school of legal studies, while Kanaka Durga is employed with the state government’s Civil Supplies Corporation.

Both had sought police protection for visiting the temple. Accompanied by five men and some police personnel in plainclothes, they climbed the hills under cover of darkness around 2.30 am, with their faces covered. On the advice of the police, the women avoided climbing the 18 holy steps leading to the temple. Instead, the duo entered the temple through a service step.

After offering prayers, they left through a passage on the rear side. They spent hardly five minutes at the temple.

After the two descended the hills, the news spread like wildfire. Several outfits organised protest marches across the state. Several people, including media persons, were injured in clashes.

The police shifted Bindu and Kanaka to undisclosed places and offered protection to their houses.

Protesters attacked government offices in many parts of the state and many ministers were blocked. Some barged into the Secretariat in capital Thiruvananthapuram. Shops and commercial establishments were shut, owing to violent protests. Many activists were injured in violence and police action in Thiruvananthapuram, Palakkad and Kozhikode districts.

The Sabarimala Karma Samathi, a forum opposed to the entry of women at the hill shrine, called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in the state on Thursday. The BJP has offered support to the hartal.

Incidentally, the entry of the two women comes a day after the LDF government-sponsored ‘Vanitha Mathil’ (Women’s Wall) was formed across the state as a demonstration of gender equality. It was against the backdrop of Sabarimala protests that the government initiated the movement with the support of various community organisations.

Subsequent to the landmark Supreme Court ruling, many women, including Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai, had tried to visit the temple. But they could not make it, owing to stiff protests. Though the CPM-led Kerala government had maintained that women who turn up to visit the temple will be given police protection, there was widespread criticism that those who did so were being asked by the police to keep off, citing protests.

The confirmation regarding the women’s entry came right from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

He told reporters it was true that the women visited Sabarimala and there were no protests during their visit.

Sabarimala Thanathri (priest) Kandararu Rajeevararu consulted the authorities of Pandalam Palace, the erstwhile custodians of the temple, and decided to close the temple and conduct purification rituals.

Around 10 am, the temple was closed and purification rituals done after removing all devotees. The temple was opened by 11 am.

Meanwhile, the BJP state leadership alleged that it was a conspiracy of the Left government in the state.

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Kerala erupts as two women enter Sabarimala temple

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