Women enter flashpoint Indian temple defying centuries-old ban

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Hindus chant devotional songs during a protest against reports of two women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala temple, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. The Police used water cannons and tear gas shells to disperse the protestors.

Despite the Supreme Court's historic decision on September 28 past year, 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. Police also resorted to lathi charge in Palakkad after the protests turned violent. The police spokesperson said demonstrators blocked several roads and threw rocks at officers.

The temple was allegedly closed for "purification rituals" after the women left.

In a surprise predawn operation heralded by activists, but opposed by conservative devotees, police enabled the two women, both 42, to enter the hilltop temple and then leave again undetected, officials said.

Young women who have done online booking should also be allowed to go to the shrine and pray there, she said. [.] It's clear that the women were under police protection.

Kumar said police were gearing up for more protests on Thursday because several political and Hindu groups have called for a general strike to protest the women's entry.

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.

Outrage grew after two women - backed by a landmark court ruling - entered a shrine which has historically been forbidden to females of menstruating age.

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State BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai alleged that the entry of the women shows that they have cheated and betrayed the Hindu devotees. They argue that the court has ignored their belief that the deity Ayyappa was celibate.

The development comes hours after lakhs of women in Kerala stood should-to-shoulder across the national highways, creating a 620 km-long human "wall" from the northern end of Kasaragod to the southern tip here on Tuesday as part of a state-sponsored initiative to uphold gender equality.

The scene, however, was completely different when they made their first attempt to enter the Sabarimala temple on 24 December with the help of a team of 50 police personnel in uniform.

The Supreme Court has agreed to re-examine its decision to lift the ban, after numerous legal challenges were brought against it. A king of the Pandalam dynasty, which is still active in temple operations, found and raised him. He said he would only do so if first-time devotees decide not to visit him - which has never happened.

Women can however access most other Hindu temples in India.

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 a year ago. Instead the state is run by a coalition of left-wing parties which have said they will enforce the court ruling.

India's Supreme Court ordered a lifting of the ban in September.

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