Tension escalated in Kerala as the Sabarimala temple open gates for the entry of women of menstrual age on Wednesday and the outposted to refrain them from entering into the temple.
Police is seen deployed at the Nilakkal Base Camp to prevent clashes between women of menstrual age entering the Sabarimala temple for the first time in centuries and conservative Hindu groups out to stop them, in Pathanamthitta, in the southern state.
The Sabarimala temple in Kerala has been the cause of tension since the Supreme Court ruled last month that banning some women from entering infringed on freedom to worship.
Hardline Hindu groups have threatened to commit mass suicide to prevent women from entering in a cultural battle between the Supreme Court, that has recently delivered landmark judgments legalising gay sex and adultery, and traditional groups that still hold sway in a deeply religious country.
The groups, that include Shiv Sena, a former ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, say the prohibition on women of menstrual age entering is required to appease the temple’s chief deity, Ayyappan, depicted as a yoga-practising God considered eternally celibate by followers.
Police said on Wednesday around 500 police, including 100 women, have been deployed at Nilakkal, the gateway to the temple around 18 km (11 miles) from the site, where many of the protests have been taking place.
“Nobody will be allowed to prevent anybody. We will do everything possible to implement the law of the land,” said Inspector General of Police Manoj Abraham. “None will be allowed to take law into their hands.”
But some female worshippers were prevented from proceeding to the temple site on Wednesday.
Hindu devotees take part in a motorcycle rally as part of a protest against the lifting of ban by Supreme Court that allowed entry of women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala temple, at Nilakkal Base camp in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state.
A lone woman travelling to Sabarimala by bus was stopped at the bus stand near the gateway by a group of protesters.
The woman, identified as Libi by local language channel Asianet News, came from the neighbouring district of Alappuzha.
“I am not scared. The police are providing full security. I have come alone,” Libi said, one of the devotees, adding she was ready to face trouble.
Police have registered cases against more than 50 people in connection with the incident.
A family of four from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, including at least one woman, were shielded by police carrying sticks after protesters shouting slogans prevented them from reaching the temple.
Overnight, police cleared hundreds of protesters from a site in Nilakkal and said no new protesters would be allowed to gather near the temple. There were at least six arrests, with a group of three arrested in connection with an assault on a woman and her husband from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.
Pilgrims have for centuries visited the Sabarimala temple, in a remote tiger reserve in the Western Ghats mountain range.
Hindu devotees stop a car to check if any women of menstruating age are headed towards the Sabarimala temple, at Nilakkal Base camp in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state of Kerala, India, October 16, 2018.
Many of those visiting the site take a vow of celibacy for 41 days before beginning a trek through the mountains to the temple, located around 3,000 feet above sea level, according to the temple’s website.