Clashes as Indian temple prepares to accept women

Mob attempts to block first entry of women of menstruating age to sacred Hindu temple

Women are permitted to enter most Hindu temples but female devotees are still barred from entry by some.

Protesters, wearing yellow and saffron scarves and headbands, vented their ire on the media, assaulting women journalists and smashing windscreens of the vehicles in which they were travelling. However, a large section of devotees have been opposing the Supreme Court's verdict.

Even though police gave the woman and her family protection and allowed them to move further, they gave up as agitated activists surrounded them, PTI reported.

On September 28, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict against the age-old tradition that banned the entry of women of menstruating age between 10 and 50 years into the Sabarimala temple.

Pilgrims have for centuries visited the Sabarimala temple, in a remote tiger reserve in the Western Ghats mountain range. The police had to encircle her in order to protect her from the angry crowd.

Meanwhile, hundreds of women devotees of Lord Ayyappa, picketed the road to the hill shrine and prevented women they suspected were of menstrual age from proceeding to the shrine some 20 km away.

Amid chanting of "swamiye saranam Ayyappa" mantras, the "melshanti" (chief priest), Unnikrishnan Namboothiri and "tantri" (head priest), Kandaru Rajeevaru opened the portals of santum sanctorum of the shrine at 5.00 pm and lighted the ceremonial lamp. This evening, the temple opened its doors to women. "But they were fully targeting devotees assembled for the protest", Surendran added.

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Madhavi, 40, a devotee from Andhra Pradesh, tried to enter Sabarimala temple on Wednesday but had to drop her plans and return after protestors heckled and attacked her from entering the shrine, as per local reports.

Some conservatives have also criticised the protests. "No one will be stopped from going to Sabarimala", said Kerala's police chief Loknath Behra told television reporters on Wednesday.

Saritha Balan, a journalist from online publication The News Minute, was kicked by protesters while accompanying devotees trying to access the site, she told Indian TV, while camera crews from several other channels had their vehicles vandalized.

A number of temples in India have banned women, saying the policy is meant to preserve the purity of their shrines. They went after her. "Congress is not attacking anybody, and definitely the attack on journalists is not tolerable". 1000 police officers were deployed in Pamba and Nilakkal.

At Nilackal, a base camp below the temple, police cleared protesters early Wednesday morning and arrested seven people who were stopping vehicles.

Jayarajan blamed the violence on "goons" from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardline Hindu group seen as close to Modi's BJP, which is an opposition party in Kerala.

Congress working president K Sudhakaran, along with a slew of party leaders, also sat for peaceful protests at Nilackal.

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