Indian police fire tear gas at protesters after women enter temple

03 January, 2019, 04:20 | Author: Emmett Rice
  • Some 5 Million Indian Women Form Massive Human Chain for Gender Equality (PHOTO)

Religiously fueled protests escalated in the Indian state of Kerala on Wednesday, with police charging Hindu worshipers with batons and using tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades to disperse rioters in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram.

An estimated 5 million women in India joined forces to form a human chain to protest gender inequality and a Hindu temple's centuries-old ban on all women of "menstruating age".

The two women had tried and failed to enter the temple on December 24, and later approached police for help, an officer said.

The result has been a ban on women ages 10-50 from entering the temple.

Opponents of the ruling say the celibacy of the temple's presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is protected by India's Constitution, and that women of all ages can worship at other Hindu temples. The shrine was shut down for the ritual 10.30 am and was opened after almost one hour, sources said.

Sabarimala reopened after around an hour.

As the news of the women entering the temple spread, protests erupted with right-wing activists blocking highways and forcing closure of shops and markets. She added that a few devotees had identified them while they were on their trek.

Announcing the dawn-to-dusk shutdown on behalf of the Sabarimala Karma Samiti Samiti, its leader K P Sasikala said the government has betrayed devotees. "After the apex court verdict the system was withdrawn as it would have tantamount to violation of the court order", the minister told the media.

India protesters carry a picture of the Hindu deity Ayyappa at a demonstration following the entry of two women at the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi in southern Kerala state on January 2, 2019.

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The women's actions provoked the ire of angry demonstrators who believed they were defiling the temple's shrine. Media reports said some were heckled by right-wing activists.

The Supreme Court is to start hearing a legal challenge to its ruling on 22 January. The entry of women at Sabarimala was taboo for generations and formalised by the Kerala High Court in 1991.

Only those who have observed the vratha and carry the irrumude, a symbolic offering, can enter the main courtyard up 18 divine golden steps. "There was a tense atmosphere in Sabarimala", she said. For the first time in the history the temple has been closed due to the breaking of tradition.

"Of course, I support the move to allow women of all ages into the temple".

The ban lifted by the Supreme Court also rested on the belief - not exclusive to Hinduism - that menstruating women are impure. He pointed to other Hindu temples and ceremonies where men are not allowed to attend.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP)'s Kerala state president P S Sreedharan Pillai called it "a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples", and said his party will "support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists".

It was one of a string of recent decisions to have eaten away at some of India's traditions, including outlawing bans on gay sex and adultery previous year.

Protests broke out in several places in the state after the women entered the temple.

In October, devotees clashed with police who arrested more than 2,000 people.

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