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25 Apr 2019, Edition - 1381, Thursday

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Kerala Tense As Women Head To Sabarimala Amid Protests, Heavy Security


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Hundreds of policemen milled around Kerala’s Sabarimala shrine today as it opens to devotees for the first time since a Supreme Court order overturned a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age -between 10 and 50. On Tuesday, devotees screened buses and tried to prevent girls and women from proceeding to the hilltop shrine dedicated to the deity Ayyappa. Women were pushed, manhandled and violently turned away from the base camp at Nilakkal, around 20 km from the temple. Seven protesters were arrested and a large number of policemen were called in amid reports of college students and women journalists being stopped. Two women – one from Kerala and another from Andhra Pradesh – were among the first women to trek towards the shrine. But they were sent back by angry protesters before they could reach the temple.

Here are the 10 biggest developments in this story:

1.After yesterday’s violence, around 1,000 police, including women, have been posted around Sabarimala and at the two base camps along the route. Protests continue at Nilakkal, the main access point before the temple nestled in the Western Ghats.
2.Top police officer Manoj Abraham said: “We were taken by surprise yesterday, but from today we are fully equipped to handle the situation. Every devotee will be allowed safe passage.”

3.The restrictions on women entering the Sabarimala shrine reflected an archaic belief that menstruating women are “impure” and the deity Ayyappa is celibate. Many take a vow of celibacy for 41 days before beginning a trek through the mountains to the temple.

4.On Tuesday, women devotees of a tribal community called Malayarayan were pulling over traffic to check for women of menstrual age, forcing a group of female journalism students off a government-run bus.

5.The hilltop shrine remains open only for 127 days in a year and can only be accessed through a forest. It will again close down on Monday.

6.The Supreme Court, while striking down the ban last month, said Lord Ayyappa “was not a separate denomination.” “Religion cannot be the cover to deny women right to worship,” said the court.

7.The temple’s head priest, Kandaru Rajeevaru, said they were “disappointed” by the court order but accepted it. The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the temple, had said however, that the top court should steer clear of judging sensitive religious matters.

8.Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said his government will not give in to attempts to prevent women from entering the temple and police will help uphold the Supreme Court order. He has also said the government will not request a review of the order as “there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender”.

9.Protests against the court order have taken a political turn with the BJP and the Congress demanded a review of the court order and organizing marches to protect the “time honoured rituals” of the temple. The BJP’s ally Shiv Sena warned of “mass suicides” if women set foot inside the Sabarimala temple.

10.BJP supporter and actor Kollam Thulasi had said that “women who go to Sabarimala temple defying the custom should be ripped apart”. A case has been filed against the actor.

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