A Hindu shrine in Kerala, India, was forced to open its gates to young women on Wednesday morning following a new Supreme Court ruling that revoked its ban on women aged 10 to 50. Despite this, not a single of woman of menstruating age was able to enter the Sabarimala temple because hundreds of protesters gathered to block the entrance, CNN reports.
The Sabarimala temple honors the Hindu deity Lord Ayyappa, who is celibate, and some people believe that if a woman who is menstruating enters the temple it is disrespectful to the deity’s celibacy. Some religious leaders also think that women on their periods are unclean or impure. Others believe that the temple’s energy could harm women’s health. Therefore, women of menstruating age, whether they are on their periods are not, have previously been banned from entering the temple.
Thousands of devotees that shared in these beliefs crowded the streets on Wednesday and surrounded the temple, according to CNN. They blocked the entry points, heckled female temple visitors, and ultimately turned to violence.
About 1,000 police attempted to settle down the crowd, but appeared to be inadequately prepared for the situation, according to reports. The protestors threw stones at police officers, damaged police and media vehicles, and harassed women into going home. Eleven people were arrested.
Some devotees threatened to lie down on the roads in front of visiting motorists, threatening mass suicide as protest. This includes 51-year-old Ratnamma who attempted to die by suicide at the site of the protest, telling Reuters that it was a statement against women entering the temple. She was stopped by other female devotees.
“We don’t mind not being allowed in. We don’t mind waiting until we turn 50. The ban is not anti-women. This is just a very old custom the Supreme Court should not have interfered with,” said Kalyani Jacob, a devotee of Lord Ayappa from New Delhi.
Because of the violent protestors guarding the temple, only one woman was able to attempt to move through the checkpoints. She traveled over 600 miles to go to the temple bringing her two children. Despite being escorted by police, protestors still prevented her from entering the temple.
“Who are men to decide where women can go or not?” Meghna Pant, a female activist told the AP.
Female journalists covering the event were also attacked in the crossfire. A CNN affiliate News 18 crew’s car was attacked, forcing female reporter Radhika Ramaswamy to turn around. She posted footage of the terrifying ordeal on Twitter.
“Protesters had free rein attacking our vehicle,” said Ramawamy. “It was shocking that officers were there doing nothing.
The Supreme Court overturned the traditional ban on women of menstruating age attending the Sabarimala temple in a 4-1 vote. The sole dissenting vote came from Justice Indu Malhorta who is the only woman on the bench.
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"In a secular polity, issues which are matters of deep religious faith and sentiment, must not ordinarily be interfered with by courts," said Malhorta.
“To treat women as children of a lesser God is to blink at constitutional morality,” said Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud.
Court cases have also causes other Indian religious sites to allow women attendees. In 2016, the Hindu temple Shani Shingnapur and the Muslim Haji Ali shrine were both instructed to retract their gender-based bans.
Amid the protests, the temple will continue to be open for five-day monthly prayers until Oct. 22. The Kerala government plans to uphold the Supreme Court ruling and is set to impose a two-day emergency law on Thursday that bans groups of more than four people from assembling within a 18-mile radius of the temple. Kerala is typically considered to be a progressive state because it has spurred reforms to the Hindu caste system and cultural sexism.
“At one point, women had no right to cover their breasts in Kerala and the lower castes were made to stand far away from Brahmins,” said Pinaravi Vijayan, Kerala’s chief minister, in response to the violence on Wednesday. “We had many such wrongful traditions. Some traditions need to be broken.”