Police say situation is ‘normal for now’ after clashes leave one man dead and many injured
A third woman has entered a flashpoint temple in southern India, stoking tensions after two days of clashes between Hindu hardliners and police.
The Sabarimala temple in Kerala state has been at the centre of a prolonged showdown since September, when India’s supreme court overturned a banon women aged 10 to 50 setting foot inside.
Before dawn on Wednesday, two women in their 40s, escorted by police, became the first to access the shrine since the landmark verdict, entering via a side door. They remained under police protection on Friday.
The third to enter the temple, on Thursday night, was a Sri Lankan woman, police said. “She entered the temple yesterday night. She is 47 years old and came as a devotee. We were aware and watched the situation,” said a police official, Balram Kumar Upadhyay. He said the situation at the temple on Friday was “normal for now”.
Thousands of Hindu hardliners, many of them female, had previously succeeded in preventing women from entering the site in the weeks following the ruling, with some throwing stones at police and assaulting female journalists.
The revelation that women had entered the temple on Wednesday sparked uproar among Hindu devotees, including many in the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, who believe that women of menstruating age should not enter the temple because the deity to which it is dedicated, Ayyappa, was celibate.
Clashes on Wednesday and Thursday between devotees, activists of Kerala’s ruling leftist alliance and riot police firing teargas and water cannon left one man dead and at least 15 people injured, including four who were stabbed.
Police said 1,369 people had been arrested, and the situation on Friday was peaceful but tense.
Much of the sporadic violence took place as Hindu hardliners sought to force shopkeepers to comply with a dawn-until-dusk hartal shutdown called by the Sabarimala temple hierarchy, media reports said.
On Tuesday in an initiative backed by the state government, tens of thousands of women formed a “Women’s Wall” human chain across Kerala to back the demand for access.
The supreme court is to start hearing a legal challenge on its ruling – the latest in a series of verdicts to upset traditionalists and reflect a more liberal outlook in Indian society – from 22 January.
Women are barred from a handful of Hindu temples in India. The entry of women of menstruating age to Sabarimala was taboo for generations and the ban was formalised by the Kerala high court in 1991.