2 women enter Hindu temple, breaking years-long ban

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The BJP has extended support to the hartal, which is the third state-wide strike since the Supreme Court gave its verdict allowing women in the age group of 10 and 50 to enter the temple as well.

Religiously fueled protests escalated in the Indian state of Kerala on Wednesday, with police charging Hindu worshipers with batons and using tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades to disperse rioters in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. Police could also be seen charging at protesters who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops in the area. Protests were reported in several other cities.

Media reports said the women entered the hilltop temple just before dawn with police security.

The women were identified as 42-year-old Kanaka Durga and 44-year-old Bindu Ammini, who told India Today TV that the two represented "the society fighting for gender justice". Noted activist G Mallika viewed this as a clear indication that the trouble in Sabarimala was created by right-wing activists who entered the hillock disguised as devotees.

"Police are bound to offer protection to anyone wanting to worship at the shrine".

The Bhumata Brigade founder said she was happy to hear that two women in their forties had managed to reach the "sannidhanam" (temple complex) and offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa and congratulated their effort.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, for his part, called the Women's Wall a "movement for equality, gender sensitivity, and social awakening", while The Times of India framed the event as a "historic moment for gender equality".

Almost three months after the Supreme Court verdict opened the gates of women of all ages at Sabarimala, two women, escorted by police officials in plain clothes, offered prayers at the temple.

The restriction on women at Sabarimala, situated on top of a 915m hill in a tiger reserve that takes hours to climb, reflects a belief - not exclusive to Hinduism - that menstruating women are impure.

Traditionalists argue also that the temple deity, Ayyappa, was celibate. Police have clashed with devotees supporting the ban and have arrested more than 2,000 people.

The scene, however, was completely different when they made their first attempt to enter the Sabarimala temple on 24 December with the help of a team of 50 police personnel in uniform. The boy fired an arrow which landed at the site where the temple now stands.

The Supreme Court has agreed to re-examine its decision to lift the ban later this month in response to 49 petitions filed against it.

Women can however access most other Hindu temples in India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party opposes the Supreme Court's decision.

The BJP is not in power in Kerala.

Clashes between police and demonstrators broke out simultaneously in several towns throughout the state, including a large-scale conflict in front of the state parliament in Thiruvananthapuram.