Two Indian women enter temple after centuries-long ban on women
Event comes as hundreds and thousands of women form a 620km human chain in support of gender equality
Two women have become the first to enter a Hindu temple in India’s southern state of Kerala after the supreme court lifted a centuries-old ban on women.
The women are believed to be the first to enter Sabarimala temple since the court overturned the ban on women of “menstruating age” – defined as between 10 and 50. The decision prompted fierce protests from conservative Hindu groups.
A video from a local police official posted online by Reuters partner ANI on Wednesday showed two women inside the temple with their heads covered.
The move came as hundreds of thousands of women formed a 620km-long human chain across Kerala in support of the court order.
Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala’s chief minister, said in a televised news conference that the two women, who had previously tried but failed to enter the temple because their way was blocked by devotees, faced no obstruction on Wednesday morning.
It was not immediately clear how the women on this occasion managed to avoid devotees guarding the temple.
The “Women’s Wall” rally on Tuesday was backed by the communist government in Kerala where the court order has triggered weeks of protests.
Media reports and supporters of the initiative claimed hundreds of thousands of women formed a human chain 620km (380 mile) – roughly the distance from London to Edinburgh – across the length of the state.
Government employees took part in the demonstration, while schools were given a half day and university exams delayed so that students could join the protest, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
A government statement issued before the event predicted five million women would participate in the protest.
Kerala has become the venue of an angry showdown between Hindu traditionalists and supporters of September’s supreme court ruling.
Several women have since tried to reach the hilltop shrine but been forced back by opposing activists. Police have clashed with devotees supporting the ban and have arrested more than 2,000 people.
Hundreds of thousands of Hindus – men, young girls and elderly women – trek to the temple for an annual festival that usually falls around the end of the year.
The supreme court is to hear challenges to its landmark ruling from 22 January.
Many Hindu groups and prime minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) oppose the ruling. They argue that the court has ignored their beliefs that the deity Ayyappa was celibate.