New Delhi, India – Two women in India’s southern Kerala state have breached a centuries-old ban on entering an ancient Hindu temple, despite strong protests by right-wing conservative groups.
Bindu and Kanakadurga, who were in their forties, walked into the Sabarimala Temple at 3:45am on Wednesday, according to the ANI news agency.
The temple had been closed off to women of menstruating age until India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September. However, opponents of the ruling continued to block women between the ages fof 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.
“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued standing orders to police to provide all possible protection to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city, Trivandrum.
A video posted online by ANI showed the two women, clothed in black, hurriedly walking into the temple. They offered prayers there, ANI said.
The temple was briefly shut down following the move for a “purification ritual” by priests.
According to the Sabarimala temple’s website, women of menstruating age were not allowed to enter the shrine because its deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.
Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened journalists and pelted police with stones.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620-km human chain “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.
— ANI (@ANI) January 2, 2019
Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter Sabarimala last month but had to back down after being hounded by violent protesters, hailed the two women’s entry to Sabarimala as a “brave feat”.
“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.
“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the women entered are standing against the constitution of this country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.
Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday, was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house was vandalised, according to Selvi.
Conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose women entering the temple.
“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple. We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar, president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army), that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told Al Jazeera.
— ANI (@ANI) January 2, 2019
KK Shailaja, minister for social justice in Kerala, said her government stands for “gender equality”. She had also participated in the “women’s human wall” on Tuesday.
“We are upholding the top court orders and our government here will continue to strongly back all women. We stand for gender equality. Those saying that women are impure should be ashamed of themselves. How can they say women are impure in front of God?” Shailaja said.
“There is no logical reason to stop women from entering any temple,” she said.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed the anti-women protesters despite the court order, in what critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make inroads into the region.
Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual blood is considered impure by many communities.
Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.
An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.