Indian police fire tear gas at protesters after women enter temple

Vanitha Mathil Women's Wall Womens wall

According to early reports, two women in the barred age group have reportedly entered the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala early Wednesday morning.

Violent protests broke out across the southern state with Indian police firing tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons.

Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the shrine after the CPI (M)-led LDF government chose to implement the apex court verdict allowing all women to offer prayers at the temple.

Public bus services were suspended after protesters blocked their path and pelted vehicles with stones.

Media reports said the women entered the hilltop temple just before dawn with police security. The head priest shut down the temple for an hour to carry out a "purification ritual".

Devotees have been enraged by an Indian Supreme Court decision to overturn an earlier ban on women aged between 10 and 50. Noted activist G Mallika viewed this as a clear indication that the trouble in Sabarimala was created by right-wing activists who entered the hillock disguised as devotees.

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Opponents of the ruling say the celibacy of the temple's presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is protected by India's Constitution, and that women of all ages can worship at other Hindu temples.

The leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the entry of the women into the shrine "hurt" the sentiments of devotees.

"The government will provide protection if any women come forward to enter the temple", Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, said.

Over 1,000 women formed a human chain in Mumbai to express solidarity with the ' Women's Wall' formed in Kerala as part of an initiative to uphold gender equality amid the row over entry of females of certain ages in the Sabarimala temple. Some Hindus consider menstruating women to be impure.

In October a year ago, devotees clashed with police in a town near the temple leading to the arrest of more than 2,000 people.

At 12 Ayyappa revealed his divinity when he emerged from the forest riding a tigress.

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Worshippers celebrate a festival each year when a procession of the goddess is taken to a spot close to the temple three times - and she is forced to wait. Their entry at Sabarimala was taboo for generations and formalised by the Kerala High Court in 1991.

The Kerala state government is run by left-wing parties and it has sought to allow women into the temple - a position that has drawn the criticism of both of India's main political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP is not in power in Kerala.

But the state government defended its decision to protect the women as they went into the temple, saying it was a matter of civil rights.

In October, devotees clashed with police who arrested more than 2,000 people.

Indira Jaising, a lawyer who argued against the ban before India's Supreme Court, said that Wednesday's visit marked "a historic moment".

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