On Wednesday, two brave women made history by entering the Sabarimala Temple in southern India, one of Hinduism’s holiest sites. The two became the first females to enter the Temple that bans women from access.
The over 800 years old Sabarimala Temple is the spiritual home of Lord Ayyappa who is a Hindu God of growth. Ayyappa is considered celibate and therefore allowing women of menstrual age inside the temple is said to be “disrespectful”.
Women between the ages 10 to 50 are strictly denied access to the shrine. Despite India’s Supreme Court lifting the ban in September, 2018, women are still banned from the site by force. This incident has now triggered a national protest over gender equality and religious freedom.
On Tuesday, protestors formed a 620km (400 miles) “women’s wall”, a human chain, starting from Kasargod in the northern part of Kerala to Thiruvananthapuram. This event marks the most powerful demonstration for the support of women’s rights. Five million people took part in this 15-minute peaceful protest.
“There were so many women and there wasn’t even space for women to extend arms. If they had extended their arms, the length of the wall would have increased so much that women would be falling in the Arabian Sea”, vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association Subhashini Ali reported.
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After the two women prayed at the Temple, a protest broke out, one which has turned violent. On Wednesday, police deployed tear gas and water canon to bring a halt to the protests outside the government buildings in Thiruvananthapuram.
Assistant superintendent of police Pramod Kumar has told CNN that there are no injuries so far and the riot police are still at the scene on standby.
The two female devotees are now in hiding and have full police protection.
Subhashini Ali has stated the women publicly fighting for their rights in Kerala will “change the conversation around gender”.
She also added: “There are many many forms of discrimination which are done in the name of tradition. It is an issue important for women and democracy”.