India's flashpoint temple, off limits to women

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

The temple, which attracts millions of Hindu pilgrims each year, is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, "a Hindu god who devotees believe is celibate and can not have contact with women of menstruating age", writes NPR's Lauren Frayer. Protesters blocked several roads and threw stones at law enforcement officials, sparking clashes, said Kumar, adding that police fired tear gas to quell the violence.

Despite the Supreme Court's historic decision on September 28 a year ago, permitting women in the 10-50 age group, no children or young women in the "barred" group were able to offer prayers at the shrine following frenzied protests by devotees and right-wing outfits.

A tense standoff lasting more than four hours in Thiruvananthapuram was ongoing, with neither side showing any sign of backing down as rival groups shouted slogans.

Police with batons charged at demonstrators who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops and businesses in the area called for by the Sabarimala temple hierarchy.

An officer and several BJP and CPI (M) workers were injured in the police action.

Nair supported the decision taken by the chief priest of the temple to perform a "purification" ceremony after the two women entered the shrine and offered prayers, violating the tradition of the temple. The duo had failed in their attempt to enter the shrine on November 24.

On December 24 past year, the two women had unsuccessfully tried to offer prayers at the shrine.

The Bhumata Brigade founder said she was happy to hear that two women in their forties had managed to reach the "sannidhanam" (temple complex) and offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa and congratulated their effort.

Kerala former chief minister V S Achyuthanand has stated that the government has taken wrong step in the Sabarimala row which will lead to the downfall of Pinarayi Vijayan government, which will soon turn into reality.

But India's Supreme Court lifted the ban in September, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender.

State BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai alleged that the entry of the women shows that they have cheated and betrayed the Hindu devotees.

In 1991, the Kerala High Court had legalised the ban which forbade women of menstruating age from visiting the site because temple authorities believe it disrespects the celibate nature of the deity worshipped. The ban was informal for many years, but became law in 1972.

On the same day, thousands of women took part in the state-wide protest by forming a 620 kilometer (385 mile) human chain, termed the "women's wall", calling for gender equality and access to the Ayyappa temple.

Later, media reported it had reopened.

The reason for Ayyappa's refusal is because of his celibacy - one of the arguments against allowing women of menstruating age to enter.

The BJP is not in power in Kerala.

For centuries, women of menstruating age have been banned from the Sabarimala temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

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