Ban on women continues at Kerala’s Sabarimala temple

Temple will close on Monday after rituals and reopen for the main pilgrimage season in mid-November

Thiruvananthapuram: Nearly a week after Kerala’s Sabarimala Ayyappa temple opened for the rituals of thulam (a month in the Kerala traditional calendar), women continued to be barred from entering the shrine by a large number of protesters on Sunday.

The Sabarimala temple has historically banned the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group, on the belief that the presiding deity, Ayyappa, is celibate and does not wish to be distracted by young women.

However, India’s Supreme Court quashed that rule last month, saying it violated the principles of gender equality provided in the national constitution.

Ever since the temple opened for thulam rituals last week, women from all walks of life including journalists, activists and devotees, have been attempting to reach the temple but they have all been thwarted by protesters, despite the women being provided police protection.

On Sunday, two women from Andhra Pradesh state were stopped by protesters close to the Sannidhanam of the temple, on suspicion that they were below 50 years. Following strong protests, the visibly shaken women decided to beat a retreat.

Another woman, also from Andhra Pradesh and identified as Balamma, had to be carried back on a stretcher after she felt giddy following a face-off with the protesters.

The temple will close on Monday after the thulam rituals, and will reopen for the main pilgrimage season only in mid-November.

The break will provide breathing space for the Kerala government, which has been struggling to uphold the apex court ruling to permit women of all ages to the temple. Thus far, not a single woman in that age group has been able to get past the protesting traditionalists who rescind the presence of women at the temple.

State police chief Loknath Behera said on Sunday that the police department would analyse if there had been any failure on the part of its forces in maintaining law and order and offering protection to women devotees. He said the discussion on the matter would be done after the temple closes this week.

Bharatiya Janata Party state president, P.S. Sreedharan Pillai said the federal government can help if the state government requested for federal intervention.

“The state assembly must have a session and pass a special resolution for the federal government to intervene in the matter” Pillai said.

He claimed that even members of the ruling Communist Part of India-Marxist (CPM) in the state were opposing the bid to break the custom of the ancient shrine.

But CPM politburo member S. Ramachandran Pillai said the protesters did not have the support of Kerala society.

Kerala state police chief Loknath Behera said the police will conduct a review of the alleged police lapses while handling the issues related to Sabarimala after the doors of the shrine close on Monday after the monthly Pooja.

Meanwhile, the Sabarimala Karma Samithi has decided to strengthen its agitation against the CPM-led Kerala government’s “hasty” move to implement the Supreme Court order.

The Samiti has called for “namajapa yatra” (protest march chanting Ayyappa mantra) to police stations across the southern state against alleged police action on their activists.

Hundreds of women participated in one such protest march held in Erumeli, a key pilgrim centre connected with Sabarimala.

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