Sabarimala temple board reverses opposition to entry of women

One of the two women, who defied the temple ban backed by right-wing groups, calls the decision a ‘positive shift’.

Women raise their hands to take a pledge to fight gender discrimination as they form part of a hundreds kilometer long "women''s wall" in Thiruvananthapuram
Last month, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620km human chain in support of the court's ruling [File: RS Iyer/AP]

The board of one of Hinduism’s holiest temples has said it now supports allowing women of menstruating age to enter the ancient shrine in southern India, reversing its previous backing for a centuries-old ban.

On Wednesday, the board overseeing the Sabarimala temple told the Supreme Court it would abide by its decision to open the temple to women, after holding off for months saying it did not want to violate an historic tradition.

“After the Supreme Court judgement, we discussed a lot. We realise that we should respect the judgement of the court,” lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi told Reuters news agency.

In late September, India’s Supreme Court ruled to end the prohibition on women and girls aged between 10 and 50 from entering the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala state, saying it went against the rights to equality and worship guaranteed under the country’s constitution.

The Travancore Devaswom Board would also withdraw from efforts challenging the Supreme Court’s lifting of the ban because it now believed it was discriminatory, Padmakumar, its president, was quoted as saying by local media.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Thursday, Bindu, one of the two women who defied the ban even before it was lifted, praised the decision as “a very positive shift”.

“Their earlier position was wrong because it was against gender justice. It’s good that they have decided to support us now,” Bindu said.

Since the top court lifted the temple ban, members of right-wing conservative groups have blocked attempts by women to visit the site. Some protesters threatened the women and pelted them with stones, causing injuries to some and damaging property. A number of women, however, managed to get in with help from police.

Bindu also remained defiant despite the threats.

“We have no fear. Me and Kanakadurga broke the ban because we had to uphold the constitutional values of this country. No one can stop women now,” she added.

In early January, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620km human chain in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

BJP calls board’s move a betrayal

The temple in Kerala pays homage to the Hindu god Ayyappan and draws millions of worshippers each year. It is one of only a few in India which barred entry to girls and women between the ages of 10 and 50.


The ban, defended by the government and conservative Hindu bodies, came under legal scrutiny in 2016 after the Young Lawyers’ Association filed a petition seeking entry for all women.

Devotees and petitioners in favour of the ban have contended that women should not be allowed inside the temple to prevent its deity Ayyappan from breaking the oath of celibacy he is believed to be observing. Some of them also consider menstruating women impure.

Pro-ban activists and politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the temple board’s decision a betrayal.

“The government has not shown least respect to the sentiments of the devotees. The people of Kerala will give a befitting reply,” Sreedharan Pillai, state president of the BJP, said, blaming the state government led by a communist alliance of undermining Hindu traditions.

Activist Rahul Easwar, the grandson of a former chief priest of Sabarimala who backs the ban, called the temple board’s decision as an insult to devotees.

“They did it under political pressure of the leftist government of the state,” Easwar told Al Jazeera.

Additional reporting by Zeenat Saberin in New Delhi.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies