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    Sabarimala temple: India court to review ruling on women's entry

    November 14, 2019

    ndia's Supreme Court has agreed to review its landmark judgement allowing women of menstruating age to enter a controversial Hindu shrine.A five-judge bench last year ruled that keeping women out of the Sabarimala shrine in the southern state of Kerala was discriminatory.he verdict led to massive protests in the state.Women who tried to enter the shrine were either sent back or, in some cases, even assaulted.The move is likely to anger women who fought hard to win the right to enter the temple.Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals.Many temples bar women during their periods and many devout women voluntarily stay away, but Sabarimala had a blanket ban on all women between the ages of 10 and 50.
    On Thursday the five-judge bench, responding to dozens of review petitions challenging the court's landmark judgement last year, said that the matter would now be heard by a larger bench.In doing so, however, it did not stay its earlier order. This means women can still legally enter the temple.But it's not going to be easy for them.
    A temple official welcomed the ruling and appealed to women to stay away.Women trying to enter the temple after the verdict last year were attacked by mobs blocking the way.Many checked vehicles heading towards the temple to see if any women of a "menstruating age" - deemed to be those aged between 10 and 50 years - were trying to enter.Following Thursday's verdict, police in Kerala have appealed for calm, saying that action will be taken "against those who take the law into their own hands". They added that social media accounts would be under surveillance and those stoking religious ensions online would be arrested.
    Today's verdict will come as a massive disappointment to women's rights campaigners. It's a case of one step forward, two steps back.In 2018, while lifting the ban on women's entry into the shrine, the Supreme Court had said that everyone had the right to practice religion and that the ban was a form of "untouchability".It was seen as a hugely progressive ruling and had given hope to women that they were equal before the law and could now claim equality before the gods too. What happened in court today has taken that sense away.The Supreme Court has not put its earlier order on hold, but with the ambiguity over women's entry continuing, it's very likely they could be kept out in the name of keeping peace.With the case now to be reopened by a larger seven-judge bench, the fight will have to be fought all over again.
    Part of the violent opposition to the Supreme Court order to reverse the temple's historical ban on women was because protesters felt the ruling goes against the wishes of the deity, Lord Ayappa, himself.While most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple is unusual in that it was one of the few that did not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.Hindu devotees say that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is not about menstruation alone - it is also in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.
    The entry of women into the Sabarimala temple sparked angry scenes
    Every year, millions of male devotees trek up a steep hill, often barefoot, to visit the shrine. They also undertake a rigorous 41-day fast, abstaining from smoking, alcohol, meat, sex and contact with menstruating women before they begin the journey.Women's rights campaigners who appealed to the Supreme Court to lift the ban said that this custom violated equality guaranteed under India's constitution. They added that it was prejudiced against women and their right to worship.Supporters of the ban argued that the practice had been in effect for centuries, and there was no need to change it now.So, were any women able to enter last year?In January, two women defied protesters and entered the shrine.Kanakadurga, 39, and Bindu Ammini, 40, made history when they entered the Sabarimala shrine - but they had to do so under heavy police protection and were also met with massive protests after.Right-wing groups, supported by India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), demanded a state-wide shutdown after, and businesses and transportation became paralysed.Across the state hundreds were arrested, and at least one person was killed in clashes.In an interview with the BBC, the women said they felt it necessary to uphold women's rights and they weren't afraid of mobs "enraged" by their actions.
    "I am not afraid. But every time women make any progress, society has always made a lot of noise," Ms Kanakadurga told the BBC in January.But their decision to enter the temple also came at heavy personal cost.She alleged that she had been beaten by her mother-in-law and abandoned. She has since filed for divorce.
    India's Kerala paralysed amid protests over temple entry
    The entry of two women into the Sabarimala temple sparked angry scenes
    Violent protests have paralysed the southern Indian state of Kerala after two women made history by entering a prominent Hindu templeSchools across the state are closed and public transport too has been suspended. One person was killed in clashes on Wednesday.The Sabarimala temple was historically closed to women of "menstruating age" - defined as between 10 and 50.
    The Supreme Court revoked the ban in September, which prompted outrage.On Wednesday, Bindu Ammini, 40, and Kanakadurga, 39, entered the shrine around dawn and became the first women to do so.
    Right-wing groups, supported by India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), demanded a state-wide shutdown. They wanted schools, colleges and businesses to remain closed as a sign of protest.The state government, which supports the Supreme Court ruling, stepped up security and deployed police across the state for protection.But fearing violence, schools and shops were closed. And buses did not run as protesters blocked highways and other roads.
    In total, more than 700 people were arrested on Wednesday and Thursday. Sixty police officers were injured, more than 80 public buses were damaged and at least a dozen police vehicles were attacked.
    Violence broke out in several cities and towns on Wednesday as groups of protesters clashed with police, who fired tear gas to disperse crowds.Police told news agency AFP that at least 15 people were injured after protesters hurled stones at them.According to local media reports, around 100 people were arrested by police in one district, where a mob assaulted a woman police officer.Police told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi that they have also detained two people in connection with the death of a man during the protests on Wednesday.
    Several journalists were also attacked in the protests that engulfed the state capital, Thiruvathapuram. Police said they are investigating the matter.
    Indian airlines have issued warnings to passengers travelling to Kerala.
    The Kerala state government supports the court verdict and Mr Vijayan has repeatedly said his government will provide the security to enforce it.But India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has argued that the court ruling is an attack on Hindu values.The issue has become increasingly contentious in the run-up to India's general election, scheduled for April and May. Critics have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of pursuing a religiously divisive agenda to court the BJP's mostly-Hindu support base.
    The Indian god who bars women from his templeEven the protests have turned into an ideological battle between the right and the left - most of the protesters belong to right-wing groups affiliated to the BJP; and those who support the court ruling are affiliated to Kerala's left-wing coalition government.
    Why are women of a certain age not allowed to enter Sabarimala?
    The Supreme Court decision to let women worship at the Sabarimala shrine came after a petition argued that the custom banning them violated gender equality.Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals - but most temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, rather than banning women in a broad age group from entering at all.
    Protesters have consistently argued that the court ruling goes against the wishes of the temple's deity, Lord Ayyappa.
    Devotees believe Lord Ayyappa is a an avowed bachelor
    They say that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is not about menstruation alone - it is also in keeping with the wish of the deity, who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.
    According to the temple's mythology, Lord Ayyappa is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy and hence, women of a certain age are not allowed into the temple.
    Why has a Hindu temple divided India's women?
    17 November 2018
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    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Many of those protesting against women entering the temple are women themselves
    It's been more than a month since India's Supreme Court revoked a ban on women aged between 10 and 51 entering a prominent Hindu temple in southern India. Yet no women have been able to enter so far.

    The Sabarimala temple in Kerala state officially opened its gates on Friday evening, the start of the annual pilgrimage season. The temple had also opened for a few hours twice after the court verdict.

    But ever since the ban was repealed, tens of thousands of protesters, including many women, have blocked roads, attacked female devotees and vandalised property in a bid to stop women from entering the shrine.

    They say that they are protecting their deity in accordance with an age-old belief that women of a menstruating age are a threat to his celibacy.

    Sabarimala temple: India's top court revokes ban on women
    Sabarimala: Mobs attack women near India Hindu temple
    A debate around this has been raging in the rest of the country as well.

    We asked two writers, with different viewpoints, to explain their stand. These are selected excerpts:

    The 'feminist' ruling angering the women it meant to empower
    Shyam Krishnakumar, commentator

    Equality cannot become a premise to create an artificial homogeneity, forcing a conformity that destroys diverse, intergenerational practices, which enjoy the support of all stakeholders, including women.

    No efforts are taken to sincerely engage with the practices of the actual stakeholders. What masquerades under the garb of "reform" is a way to impose modernity on native practices by judicial writ and state force if necessary.

    The judgement has also raised disturbing questions about the relationship between religion and state in India.

    The government has become increasingly involved in managing religious institutions and the judiciary in determining "correct" religious practice.

    Image copyrightKAVIYOOR SANTHOSH
    Image caption
    Sabarimala is one of the most prominent Hindu temples in the country
    The stand-off at Sabarimala exposes the stark dichotomy between a cosmopolitan elite who celebrate the "liberation" of women and the visceral grassroots reaction from millions of women devotees who feel their voices are not being heard in today's India.

    Kerala is not a place where women are voiceless. It has historically been a matrilineal society where women have controlled and inherited property for centuries. The state has the highest literacy rate in India and its social indicators are comparable to developed countries.

    The protesting women feel that no one cared to understand their worldview. They feel that those with privilege and a voice are imposing a "liberation" that these women do not seek.

    Read the full article here

    To ban women from Sabarimala is yet another form of 'victim-shaming'
    Devika J, historian and social commentator

    As someone who lives in Kerala, I can vouch that misogyny here is just as toxic as anywhere else in India.

    The myth that Kerala is a matrilineal society and that women here enjoy freedom and equal rights has been a persistent one.

    This myth has continued to circulate despite a rising mountain of evidence against that rosy picture.

    Critics often cherry-pick facts to suit their arguments.

     

    Media captionA BBC team was forced to leave as protests turned violent.
    In this debate, feminists in Kerala and elsewhere who have publicly supported the court verdict have been told that they are too "elite" to do so and their concerns are ultimately too cosmopolitan to represent marginalised women and devotees.

    But the same critics have no problem putting privileged and elite women forward to make their arguments sound more convincing.

    But all women - elite or not - should oppose the belief that they must be barred from the Sabarimala temple to protect the deity's celibacy.

    Isn't the reasoning employed here very similar to the one used to victim-shame survivors of rape and sexual harassment - that their attire or their presence provoked their attacker?

    If such a belief is being peddled as tradition, it is important for everyone in a democratic society to strongly oppose it.

    The Indian god who bars women from his temple
    19 October 2018
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    Image caption
    Two women are trying to enter the temple in full riot gear
    The Sabarimala temple in the south Indian state of Kerala this week opened its doors to women of all ages for the first time after a historic Supreme Court ruling. However no women devotees have yet entered as violent protesters have blocked their way.

    Two women - journalist Kavitha Jagdal and social activist Rehana Fathima - managed to reach the main temple premises on Thursday. More than 100 policemen protected them from stone-throwing protesters as they walked the last 5km (3-mile) stretch to the temple.

    But they had to return after a stand-off with devotees metres from Sabarimala's sanctum.

    The protesters have also included many women - they have participated in rallies, blocked roads and checked vehicles heading towards the temple to see if any women of a "menstruating age" - deemed to be those aged between 10 and 50 years - were trying to enter.

    The temple attracts millions of devotees from across the country every year.

    Why are protesters so angry?

    Media captionA BBC team was forced to leave as protests turned violent.
    Part of the violent opposition to the Supreme Court order to reverse the temple's historical ban on women is because protesters feel the ruling goes against the wishes of the deity, Lord Ayappa, himself.

    Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals.

    But while most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple is unusual in that it was one of the few that did not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.

    Hindu devotees say that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is not about menstruation alone - it is also in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.

    Every year, millions of male devotees trek up a steep hill, often barefoot, to visit the shrine. They also undertake a rigorous 41-day fast, abstaining from smoking, alcohol, meat, sex and contact with menstruating women before they begin the journey.

    What is the legend of Lord Ayappa?
    Every god in the vast Hindu pantheon has his or her own personality, complete with a unique legend, and Lord Ayappa is no different.

    According to the temple's mythology, Lord Ayyappa is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy.

    There are several stories about why this is the case.

    According to one legend, Ayappa was born out of a union between two male gods which gave him the ability to defeat a she-demon who had been unstoppable until then.

    Upon defeating her, it was revealed that she was really a young woman who had been cursed to live the life of a demon.

    Image copyrightEPA
    She fell in love with him and asked him to marry her, but he refused, saying he was destined to go into the forest and answer the prayers of his devotees.

    She persisted, so he said he would marry her the day new devotees stopped coming to seek his blessings.

    That never happened.

    The legend says that she waits for him at a second temple, which lies on the way to the main Sabarimala shrine.

    Women do not visit either temple - the belief is that to do so would insult both the deity and the sacrifice of the woman who loved him.

    Mobs attack women near India Hindu temple
    Enough is enough: India women fight to enter temples
    According to another legend, Lord Ayappa was a prince who saved his kingdom from an Arab invader named Vavar.

    Following the battle, Vavar became a devout follower of the prince - there is also a shrine dedicated to him near Sabarimala. He is said to protect the pilgrims who come to Sabarimala to seek blessings.

    In this version of the story, Lord Ayappa eventually took a vow to answer the prayers of every devotee who came to him, and shunned all worldly desires including contact with women, which is why women are not permitted inside his temple.

    There could also be other legends associated with the deity and why women are not allowed inside.

    What are protesters saying?
    Image copyrightKAVIYOOR SANTHOSH
    Image caption
    Sabarimala is one of the most prominent Hindu temples in the country
    "There is no jubilation among Hindu women devotees; on the contrary, they are distressed," author Vineetha Menon wrote in the Organiser - a publication run by the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has been at the forefront of protests.

    Ms Menon argues that women do not enter the temple "owing to the Lord's bhava [wish]".

    Some male devotees have said that they will not return to the temple if the court ruling is enforced.

    "We have been coming to temple for the last 30 years. But we may not come back because women entering the temple will spoil our belief system and sacred rituals," Murugan, a devotee, told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi.

    Image copyrightREUTERS
    The issue also divided the five-judge bench that gave the verdict.

    Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge on the bench, disagreed with the majority verdict.

    "Issues of deep religious sentiments should not be ordinarily interfered by the court... Notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion," she said in her dissenting opinion.

    Women have been demanding entry into the temple for decades. But in 2016, a controversial statement by the temple's chief gave fresh impetus to the protest.

    Prayar Gopalakrishnan said that he would allow women to enter only after a machine was invented to detect if they were "pure" - meaning that they weren't menstruating.

    Petitioners who appealed before the Supreme Court to lift the ban cited his statement, saying the temple's rituals violated equality guaranteed under India's constitution. They added that it was prejudiced against women and their right to worship.

    Correspondents say that clashes between protesters and police may escalate in the coming days as more women are likely to attempt to enter the temple.

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