The Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala, which was recently ordered by India’s Supreme Court to open its doors to women of all ages, was the focal point of violence yesterday when hundreds gathered to protest the decision.
The Huffington Post reports that the mob verbally and physically assaulted several female Indian journalists who were covering the protest.
The crowd fought street battles with police, damaged police and television vehicles, and ultimately bullied women into turning back from the temple.
In September, India’s Supreme Court lifted the temple’s centuries-old ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50, who were barred because they might be menstruating. The court agreed with Indian feminists that the blanket ban was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
About 1,000 police officers were dispatched to the area on Wednesday to control protesters and arrested 11 people.
But some reporters said Kerala’s police failed to ensure the safety of journalists and female devotees seeking to enter the temple.
CNN-News18′s Radhika Ramaswamy posted disturbing footage on Twitter of male devotees at Sabarimala trying to intimidate her. The conversation began civilly, but as soon as she mentioned the Supreme Court verdict, the crowd started banging on her car and demanding that she leave.
The News Minute, an Indian digital newspaper, said reporter Saritha Balan was physically attacked while travelling with a group of devotees traveling to Sabarimala on a bus. A mob of around 20 men reportedly forced Balan to exit the bus before kicking her, taking her photograph and calling her “derogatory names,” the news site said.The paper wrote:
The News Minute condemns this cowardly intimidation tactic by anti-women mobs claiming to be devotees, and stopping journalists from doing their job. Why was the police not prepared to give protection to all women in the region?
The protesters who surrounded roads leading to the hilltop temple on Wednesday included many conservative Hindu women who believe the temple’s centuries-old ban honours its “eternally celibate” deity, Lord Ayyappa. Others who support the gender-based ban have said that it protects women, believing that the energy at Sabarimala has the potential to harm their health.
Kalyani Jacob, a devotee of Lord Ayappa who lives in New Delhi, said:
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.
A few female devotees of Lord Ayyappa have threatened to commit suicide if women of menstruating age are allowed to enter the temple.
Sabarimala’s blanket ban on all women of menstruating age angered some Indian feminists. Activist Meghna Pant said that Lord Ayyappa’s celibacy was not more important than the equality of women.
Who are men to decide where women can go or not?