Videos have emerged showing the moment two women first entered a Hindu temple that for centuries had been closed to all women of menstruating age. Although India’s Supreme Court lifted the ban back in September, no women had yet been able to enter the temple due to protesters who guarded its entrance.
The two women, named in the Indian media as Bindu Ammini, 40, and Kanaka Durga, 39, had already tried to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state last month but were turned away by protesters. Several other women also tried and failed. In the early morning hours of January 2, before sunrise, the pair tried again and this time were able to enter, accompanied by several police officers.
"We had no trouble trekking to the shrine and the officials were co-operative," Ammini told the BBC. "We left before the protesters spotted us."
The two women are now under police protection.
Several short videos show them entering the compound and walking around inside the temple. The videos have been widely shared on social media in India, along with very different messages: some applauded the women while others saw their actions as an attack on Hindu tradition. Among those in the latter camp, many tweeted using the hashtag #BlackDayForHindus.
The temple is dedicated to the deity Ayyappan, who is celibate, which is the reason Hindu traditionalists believe women under 50 should not be allowed on the temple grounds. Priests later reportedly closed the temple for several hours to perform “purification rituals”.
The decision to lift the ban on women entering the temple was supported by Kerala state’s left-wing government, but decried by many politicians on the right. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), opposed letting women into the temple, saying that it was an issue of tradition, not gender equality. Following the two women’s visit to the temple, India’s two main parties, the ruling BJP and the Congress Party, have called for protests.
Violence also broke out in several parts of Kerala state on January 2 in reaction to the news of the women’s visit.
A day prior, on January 1, thousands of women participated in a human chain called the “Women’s Wall” to support gender equality. The demonstration was planned by Kerala state authorities.