A temple in southern India which is one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage centres in the world is set to open its doors to females “of menstruating age” following a ruling by the country’s top court.
Some 1,000 police officers cleared protesters from the vicinity of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state, hours before the temple’s doors were to open to females aged 10 to 50.
Police arrested 11 protesters when they tried to block the path of some women and girls.
On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters stopped buses carrying devotees to two of the temple’s base camps and asked females to show documents to prove their age.
Since a state court ruling in 1991, the centuries-old temple has barred women and girls aged 10 to 50 from entering. India’s supreme court lifted that ban last month, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender.
Temple managers and the protesters argue that the celibate nature of the temple’s presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is protected by India’s constitution. Some religious figures consider menstruating women to be impure.
Meghna Pant, a female activist, said the celibacy of the deity was not more important than the equal status of women. She said: “Who are men to decide where women can go or not?”
Supporters of the ban have been angered by the state government’s decision not to seek a review of the supreme court’s ruling. Rahul Easwar, a lawyer for the temple, appealed to the female devotees not to enter the temple and give temple authorities until next week to file a review petition in the supreme court.
Sabarimala is surrounded by mountains and dense forests in its location at the Periyar Tiger Reserve.
Up to 50 million devotees visit the temple every year. Several temples across India have banned women, saying the policy is intended to preserve the purity of their shrines.
The operators of a temple in the north-western state of Rajasthan believe the Hindu god Kartikeya curses women who enter the temple, instead of blessing them. India’s secular courts have intervened recently in cases in which a religion’s gender beliefs were seen as discriminatory.