Two women in their 40s created history by entering Kerala’s Sabarimala temple on Wednesday, breaching the shrine’s traditional ban on women of menstrual age and leaving the state shaken by protests.
The move, while perfectly legal, added fuel to the heated debate across the nation on the right to pray and equality of women, at a time when women in several parts of the country are fighting to end gender discrimination.
A Supreme Court order overturning the Sabarimala women ban in September led to protests by Hindu groups, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The dawn-to-dusk ‘Hartal’ called by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of pro-Hindutva groups, and the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP) virtually brought the state down to its knees.
The state was under siege as they attacked over 20 offices of the ruling CPI(M) and its other Left allies, and clashed with police, leaving at least 31 personnel injured.
In Thrissur, three BJP activists were stabbed during a scuffle with workers of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of Popular Front of India, a militant Islamic outfit, police said. The incident occurred when saffron party workers attempted to force a restaurant to down the shutters.
As the state plunged into chaos, sought an “urgent report” from Chief Minister Vijayan on the disturbances.
“Sought from Chief Minister @CMOKerala an urgent Law and Order report on the incidents of violence and destruction of private & public property in Kerala following entry of two young women in #Sabarimala temple,” Governor P Sathasivam said in a tweet.
The entry of the two women, Bindu Ammini, 42, and Kanaka Durga, 44, put the local units of the BJP and the Congress, which are backed by a large section of devotees, on the back foot. These two parties, who support the ban on women, are now organizing demonstrations in support of their stand across Kerala.
As tempers ran high in Kerala, the Supreme Court refused to urgently hear a contempt petition moved by a lawyers’ group against the Sabarimala temple authorities for closing the shrine for purification after two women entered it.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S K Kaul said that the contempt petition will be heard along with the pending review petitions against the apex court verdict which allowed women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple.