Violence in India as female worshipers break blockade to secretly enter one of India’s holiest temples

Two women made history by sneaking into one of India’s holiest Hindu temples before dawn yesterday/WED in defiance of hardline activists blockading the shrine from female worshipers.

The Sabarimala temple in southern Kerela has been at the centre of a highly politically charged stand-off after the Supreme court lifted a centuries-old ban on women of menstrual age from praying inside it.

Violence erupted as news spread that the two women in their 40s had defied traditionalists, backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), by entering the temple for the first time since the landmark court ruling.

Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and used water cannon as clashes between rival groups erupted across the southern state of Kerala, local media reported. Several officers were reportedly injured.

The two women entered the temple under police escort around 3.45am local time, and left undetected a short while later after offering prayers inside the shrine.

“It is a fact that two women entered the shrine” state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed, adding that police are bound to offer protection to anyone wanting to worship inside the temple.

Bindu Ammini, 42, and Kanaka Durga, 44, had tried entering Sabarimala last month, but were forcibly turned back by Hindu activists committed to violently enforcing the ban, despite its revocation by India’s Supreme Court last September. 

At the time the court had ruled that banning women of menstrual age-between 10 and 50 years-from entering Sabarimala was unconstitutional and an infringement of human rights and of equality of worship.  

Immediately after the ruling protesters, with the support of the government, disregarded the court’s ruling and begun preventing women devotes from entering Sabarimala, even resorting to force.

They maintained that age-old religious sentiments prevailed over judicial rulings and that preventing menstruating women from entering the shrine was essential to appease and protect Ayyappan, the temples deity who is depicted as a celibate yoga-practising god.

Devotees take a vow of celibacy for 41 days before undertaking the arduous trek to the Sabarimala temple in a bid to earn the deity’s blessings.

Officials at the temple on Wednesday said the two women had left for 11-mile log uphill trek to Sabarimala around midnight, but instead of ascending the final 18 holy steps to the temple had entered the shrine stealthily through the staff gate.

Video images circulating on WhatsApp reveal the two women dressed in black tunics entering the temple with their heads bowed as they rushed inside.

“We arrived early in the morning and had a darshan (visitation of the idol) for a few minutes “ Ms Ammini told the BBC later. We left before protestors stopped us, she added.  

After news of the two women entering Sabrimala became public, the temple authorities accused them of ‘defiling’ the shrine and closed it for an hour to ‘purify’ it before opening it up to receive male devotees.  

Local BJP leader Sreedharan Pillai, however, strongly criticised the temple entry by the two women, calling it a ‘conspiracy by Kerala’s atheist rulers to destroy Hindu temples’. He was referring to Kerala’s Marxist government that came to power in 2016.

“The BJP will support all struggles against the destruction of (the Hindu) faith by the Communists” Mr Pillai told local television news channels.

On New Years Day some five million women formed a 385-mile long ‘human chain’ across Kerala in support of gender equality and to protest against activists enforcing the ban on females entering Sabarimala despite the Supreme Court having overturned it.

Women of all ages and from all wakes of life including lawyers, doctors, actors, authors, teachers, civil servants and even members of the LGBT community stood shoulder to shoulder for 15 minutes late in the afternoon in a show of female solidarity.

Their protest ended with a pledge to ‘harness the power of enlightenment to insulate society against revanchist forces that sought to push Kerala back to the dark ages of casteism and discriminatory religious practices’.

Meanwhile, in many traditional Hindu communities across India, menstruating females are considered unclean and unholy. This, in turn, results in restrictions and, in some cases outright bans, on women of child- bearing age from entering some temples and holy spots.