Washington, DC – India reacted with a sigh of relief over the news of upkeep of the Supreme Court judgement which overturned the ban in entering the Sabarimala temple to women of “menstruating age” – defined as between 10 and 50. Even after the judgement of the highest court of the land, protesters with the tacit support of ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, kept attacking women and stopping them from going into the temple.
But with the dawn of 2019, two Indian women made history by entering the Hindu shrine in the southern state of Kerala, following months of protests against their entry.
The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in a statement congratulated the women of Kerala, extending “its warm greetings and congratulations to the women of Kerala and to all the 176 social and mass organizations for the historic `Women’s Wall’ on January 1.”
“The women’s wall with over 55 lakh women participants cutting across caste/community divide and from all walks of life, gave a strong message of unity to uphold the values of the Kerala renaissance for women’s rights and social reform,” the statement read.
“At a time when the communal rightwing forces led by the RSS seek to impose retrograde `manuvadi’ ideologies throughout the country, this women’s wall has a wider significance and will encourage a wider resistance to all such efforts,” the statement read.
The statement was referring to a protest wall when women in Kerala formed a 385 mile (620-kms) human chain “in support of gender equality”, amid a row over access to the prominent Hindu temple. The “women’s wall” was organized by the state’s left-wing coalition government.
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.
But India’s ruling party, BJP under the leadership of Modi, has argued that the ruling is an attack on Hindu values. With the general elections looming in April and May 2019, the issue has become increasingly contentious. Critics have accused Prime Minister Modi of pursuing a religiously divisive agenda to court the BJP’s mostly-Hindu support base.
In an interview with news agency ANI on the first day of the new year, Prime Minister Modi on Tuesday diluted the verdict of the highest court of the land saying: “In this, Sabarimala, a woman judge in the Supreme Court has made certain observations. It needs to be read minutely. There is no need to attribute those to any political party. As a woman, she has made some suggestions. There should be a debate on that as well sometimes.
There were reports of fresh protests after the news of the women’s entry to the shrine spread. According to a BBC report, Bindu Ammini, 40, and Kanaka Durga, 39, devotees of the temple deity, Lord Ayyappa, entered around dawn. “We arrived early in the morning and we had a darshan [saw the idol] for a few minutes,” Ammini was quoted as saying by the BBC.
Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whose government supports the Supreme Court ruling, told journalists that the women’s entry into the temple was a historic moment.
According to the temple’s mythology, Lord Ayyappa is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy. Devotees say the ban on women of “menstruating age” was in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.
Women who had tried to enter following the court ruling had to turn back because of protesters. Police arrested more than 2,000 people in October for rioting and unlawful assembly.