India

India's Sabarimala: Over 2,000 arrested for blocking women from temple

People of Malayali community wait for the temple doors to open at Makara Vilakku Mahotsavam at Ayyappa temple in Rasta Peth, on January 14, 2018 in Pune, Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sabarimala authorities say they don't want women to "distract" the temple deity

Police in India have arrested 2,200 people for protesting against the entry of women into a prominent Hindu temple in the southern state of Kerala.

Hundreds clashed with women to prevent them from entering the Sabarimala shrine last week, despite a historic Supreme Court ruling.

Violent protests were also held in different parts of the state, defying the police's appeal for peace.

The temple has historically been closed to women of "menstruating age".

A senior police officer told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi that the protesters, including both men and women, have been arrested for rioting and unlawful assembly.

"We have arrested those who prevented women from entering the temple and also those who violently protested against the court's order. We hope that this will act as a deterrent when the temple reopens in November," the officer said.

The temple only opens for brief periods throughout the year.

Massive protests meant that very few women attempted to enter the temple last week and those who tried were forced to turn back.

Protesters believe that the ruling goes against the wishes of the deity, Lord Ayappa, himself.

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Media captionA BBC team was forced to leave as protests turned violent.

They say that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is not about menstruation alone - it is also in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.

According to the temple's mythology, Lord Ayyappa is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy, hence the ban on the entry of women.

Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals.

While most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple was unusual in that it was one of the few that did not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.

This was overturned by the Supreme Court last month, with judges observing that "the right to practice religion is available to both men and women".

The temple did open its doors to women last week as directed by the court ruling. However, not a single woman was able to enter because of the protesters.

Two women managed to reach the main temple premises last week. More than 100 policemen protected them from stone-throwing protesters as they walked the last 5km (3-mile) stretch to the shrine.

But they had to turn back after a stand-off with devotees just metres from Sabarimala's sanctum.

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