Sabarimala: Protesters fire pepper spray at women trying to enter Indian temple

'Religious tradition and customs cannot be used as an excuse to curtail the right to equality of women and girls, including their right to worship,' says lawyer

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Thursday 28 November 2019 08:23 GMT
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One of the women who was attacked was spurted with pepper spray by a Hindu nationalist demonstrator in Kerala and was rushed to hospital
One of the women who was attacked was spurted with pepper spray by a Hindu nationalist demonstrator in Kerala and was rushed to hospital (AP)

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Women have again come under attack from angry protesters after travelling to a famous Hindu temple which has for decades banned female visitors.

The Sabarimala temple in Kerala, southern India, has since 1972 barred entry to women “of menstruating age” – defined as between 10 and 50.

India’s Supreme Court lifted the ban in September last year. But the ruling caused outrage among Hindu nationalists, who have launched a legal challenge.

One female activist was rushed to hospital after being hit with pepper spray by a demonstrator on Tuesday.

The attack took place outside Ernakulam city police commissioner’s office.

Bindu Ammini, one of the two women, who first entered the Sabarimala Temple in January this year, told the Economic Times: “A man sprayed pepper and chilli at my face.”

The Keralan government has failed to provide proper protection for the women despite the Supreme Court ruling they must be permitted to enter the Sabarimala temple.

Seven women touched down in Cochin airport on Tuesday with the express aim of visiting the Sabarimala temple.

Police advised the women they were endangering their lives by carrying on with their pilgrimage but they have asserted they will go on with their journey.

“Banning women of menstruating age from entering a Hindu temple because they are perceived as ‘impure’ is a reflection of widespread gender discrimination and stigma against menstruation that is prevalent across Indian society,” Divya Srinivasan, an Indian lawyer who specialises in women’s rights, told The Independent.

“Religious tradition and customs cannot be used as an excuse to curtail the right to equality of women and girls, including their right to worship.”

Ms Srinivasan, who works for the South Asia branch of Equality Now, a non-government organisation which aims to promote the rights of women and girls, added: "Last year, India’s Supreme Court ruled against the gender discriminatory ban that prevented women from entering the Sabarimala temple.

“The police and government in Kerala should take immediate action to enforce the court’s decision and prosecute all those who have broken the law by impeding and assaulting women who have attempted to enter.“

Violent protests swept Kerala at the beginning of the year after two women entered the Sabarimala temple.

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