A 46-year-old woman has entered the Sabarimala temple in southern India‘s Kerala state, becoming the third woman this week to breach a centuries-old ban on females of reproductive age from going inside.
Balram Kumar Upadhyay, a police official, told AFP news agency on Friday that the woman, a Sri Lankan national, entered the temple on Thursday night.
Upadhyay said security forces, deployed to control protests by Hindu hardliners, “were aware and watched the situation”, adding that the situation at the temple was “normal for now”.
Local media reported the woman, identified as Sasikala, has had her uterus removed, which would mean she cannot menstruate. The Kerala chief minister’s office said she went to the temple with her husband.
The Sabarimala temple has been at the heart of a prolonged showdown after India’s Supreme Court in September overturned the ban on the entry of women, but the shrine refused to follow the orders.
The temple is one of a few in India that bars women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50, saying that menstruating women are impure. Women’s rights groups say the ban is discriminatory
Conservative Hindu groups paralysed Kerala on Thursday, shutting businesses and halting transport with a protest strike against the left-wing Kerala state government, which has supported the right of women to enter the temple.
Bindu and Kanakadurga, both in their forties, became the first women to enter the sacred Hindu shrine on Wednesday.
“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,” Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters on Wednesday.
Thousands of Hindu hardliners, many of them female, had previously succeeded in preventing women from accessing the site in the weeks following the landmark ruling, with some hardliners throwing stones at police and assaulting female journalists.
Wednesday’s news sparked uproar among Hindu devotees, including many in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which believes that women of menstruating age should not enter the temple because the diety it is dedicated to, Ayyappa, was celibate.
Clashes on Wednesday and Thursday between devotees, activists of Kerala’s ruling leftist alliance and riot police firing tear gas and water cannon, left one man dead and at least 15 people injured, including four who were stabbed.
Police said that 1,369 people have been arrested and that the situation on the ground on Friday was peaceful but tense.
Much of the sporadic violence took place as Hindu hardliners sought to force shopkeepers to comply with a dawn-til-dusk “hartal” shutdown called by the Sabarimala temple hierarchy, media reports said.
On Tuesday tens of thousands of women, in an initiative backed by the state government, had formed a huge human chain called the “Women’s Wall” across Kerala to back the demand access.
The Supreme Court is to start hearing a legal challenge on its temple ruling – the latest in a series of verdicts to upset traditionalists and reflect a more liberal outlook in Indian society – from January 22.
The entry of women of menstruating age to Sabarimala was taboo for generations and formalised by the Kerala High Court in 1991.