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Protestors who are opposed to allowing women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple chant devotional hymns as they gather at Nilackal, a base camp on way to the mountain shrine in Kerala, India, Oct. 17, 2018.
AP Photo
Girls & Women

Hindu Temple no Longer Forbidden for Women of Menstruating Age

Why Global Citizens Should Care
India’s Supreme Court has intervened to stop institutions from discriminating against women on the basis of gender, but change needs to be driven by communities as well. The temple board’s ruling is a step in the right direction. You can take action on this issue here.

After months of bitter dispute, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which oversees India’s historic Sabarimala temple, said on Wednesday that women of menstruating age should be allowed to enter and worship in the temple, Reuters reported.

The Sabarimala temple in India’s Kerala state has been at the center of controversy for months, following a Supreme Court ruling last October, which overturned a ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering the temple.

The ruling was hailed as a win for women’s rights, and could help to dismantle stigmas surrounding menstrual health in India.

The Sabarimala temple, which celebrates the celibate Hindu god Ayyappan, has traditionally kept women of menstruating age out because they were perceived to be “impure.” This widespread misconception also limits women’s freedom in India in other ways. For example, women are often prevented from going to restaurants and engaging in communal cooking during their periods.

Take Action: Prioritizing Menstrual Hygiene Management is Key to Ensuring Girls Can Stay in School

Last September, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sabarimala temple’s ban was illegal and set the stage for women to enter and participate in the place of worship.

However, many opposed to the ruling. The Travancore Devaswom Board refused to abide by the ruling and enlisted men to form barricades to block women from entering. On numerous occasions, women with police escorts tried to enter and remain in the temple, only to be forcibly removed by men.

Read More: Indian Women Are More Likely to Report Crimes to All-Female Police Stations

In one instance, around 1,000 police officers intervened to break up a mass demonstration against the Supreme Court ruling that turned violent.

Dozens of petitions had been filed against the Supreme Court’s ruling, including a challenge from the Sabarimala temple’s board, and were being reviewed when the temple board surprised many by withdrawing its challenge. The board now says it supports the court’s opinion.

"After the Supreme Court judgement, we discussed a lot,” Rakesh Dwivedi, a lawyer for the board, told Reuters. “We realise that we should respect the judgement of the court,"

Supporters of the traditional ban have called the board’s change of heart a “betrayal” and it remains to be seen whether women will actually be welcomed in the temple, or if they will still face hostility when visiting.

Read More: The Devastating Reason Women in India Are Far Less Likely to Report Sexual Assaults

Indian courts have forced other places of worship to discard similar gender discriminatory bans. These rulings reflect a broader trend towards gender equality in India.

“Historically, women have been treated with inequality,” the chief justice, Dipak Misra, said at the time of the Supreme Court’s ruling. “Society has to undergo a perception shift.”

Women recently gained the right to sit down during the workday. Sexist laws on divorce and adultery have been erased in recent years, and awareness about the country’s epidemic of sexual violence has increased.

Read More: Gender Violence Kills More Women Than Armed Conflict in Much of Asia

Still, India is ranked the most dangerous place in the world for women, according to a global survey, highlighting the need for continued efforts to advance gender equality in the country.