Women in India Can Finally Hike Sacred Peak — But There Are New Concerns
Safety is a growing issue.
Women are finally permitted to hike to Agasthyarkoodam, the second highest peak in India’s Kerala state, but safety is a growing concern, the Independent reports.
Officials said women rushed to sign up for hiking permits when bookings for the January-March season opened up on Saturday. In the wake of the violent responses to women recently being allowed in Kerala’s Sabarimala Hindu temple, the forest department has upped security on the trail but isn’t doing much else to offer protection.
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"In case permission is being granted for trekking in the year 2019, it is made clear that restrictions shall not be imposed only on the ground of the gender of the trekker," the Kerala High Court stated.
In November, after women’s organizations filed a petition against the discriminatory regulation, the state forest department lifted a long ban on women trekking to the UNESCO heritage site.
For decades, women had been informally banned from the mountain honoring the celibate god Agastya ‚— until 2016, when the forest department enforced the ban by not granting women hiking permits. The religious Kani community residing in the state argued women would interfere with their worship rights. Forest authorities claimed the three-day hike was too difficult for them.
After #SabarimalaTemple, another no-go zone is set for women entry. Women can take part in the trek to Agasthyarkoodam. Though women above 14 were allowed to trek, the Kani tribe opposed it claiming they have been worshipping Agastya Muni there and women can't go near the idol. pic.twitter.com/mRGTO66DQj— Bobins Abraham (@BobinsAbraham) January 5, 2019
Between 1972 and 2018, women also couldn’t enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple honoring the celibate Hindu god Lord Ayyappa. It is believed menstruating women disrespect his celibacy. Some religious leaders also view menstruating women as unclean and impure, while others think the temple’s energy could threaten women’s health.
Now officials fear local tribesman could attack women on their way to Agasthyarkoodam, based on the violent protests that broke out after the first two women entered Sabarimala on Jan 1. after months of opposition stopped others from entering safely. The following day, as many as 5 million women formed a 380-mile human chain in solidarity as a symbol of gender equality.
While the forest department is now letting women access the peak, they are not adding any facilities, like bathrooms, to protect them.
Despite the security efforts, the department said there will be “no special consideration for women trekkers.”
In India, gender-based discrimination extends beyond Kerala — it has made the country the world’s most dangerous for women, according to a 2018 poll conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.