No woman from ‘banned’ age group as Sabarimala temple opens amid tension

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

Kerala has witnessed a series of protests and prayer marches over the last few days over the government's decision to enforce the Supreme Court order.

"None will be stopped nor will anyone be allowed to take law into their hands".

Earlier, police chased away a group of protesters at Nilackal who were stopping and checking vehicles to see if they had women in the 10-50 age group. She was escorted to safety by police.

A temple in southern India that is one of the world's largest Hindu pilgrimage centres opened its doors to females of menstruating age on Wednesday to comply with a Supreme Court ruling, but women weren't able to enter as hundreds of protesters fought street battles with police to keep them out.

State Devaswom Minister, Kadakampally Surendran, who held a review meeting at Sannidhanam (temple complex) on the three-month-long Mandalam-Makaravilakku-festival beginning from November 17, said the government would face the agitation politically.

Unfazed by violent protests, Madhavi, a gutsy woman from Andhra Pradesh in her 40s, tried to climb the Sabarimala hills to reach the Lord Ayyappa temple but was forced to return to Pamba, menaced by agitated male devotees.

The police had evicted the protestors who were staging a demonstration in Nilakkal on the Sabarimala issue. Protesters, who had gathered at Nilakal, about 20 km from the foothills of the temple, have been removed.

During the day, demonstrators clashed on four occasions at Nilackal and Pamba with the police, leaving some protesters and police personnel injured.

The Kerala government has said it will uphold the supreme court ruling.

Nikita Azad, who started the campaign, told the BBC at the time that there was no "right time" to go into a temple and that women should have the right to go "wherever they want to and whenever they want to".

In a similar manner, News 18 reporter Neethu Reghukumar was heckled by angry protesters on Tuesday night and the media organisation's auto was attacked after she questioned the Kerala government over its promise on the safety of women devotees. "This is just a very old custom the supreme court should not have interfered with".

The Network of Women in Media, India, denounced the attacks.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has vowed to protect the rights of the devotees.

Around 1000 police personnel, 800 men and 200 women, have been deployed in Nilakkal to ensure a safe passage to the pilgrims to the Lord Ayyappa temple.

"No woman belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilackal and offer worship at the shrine", the Press Trust of India news agency quoted one woman as saying.

He added that several "scientists" had concurred with the view that the "positive energy" in a temple can be polluted by the entry of menstruating women.

The Sabarimala temple doors would be closed on October 22 after the five-day monthly prayer during the Malayalam month of Thulam.

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