One Dead As Violent Protests Erupt In India Over Women Entering Temple

Two women, accompanied by police officers, entered a centuries-old Hindu shrine and protests broke out as a result.

Violent protests broke out around the Indian state of Kerala on Wednesday after two women defied a centuries-old ban and entered the Sabarimala temple, one of Hinduism's holiest sites.

A 42 and 44-year-old woman, accompanied by plain-clothed police officers, entered the shrine that has long barred women of childbearing age.

As a result of the subsequent violence, one person is dead, police say.

A temple activist who was injured in stone-pelting protests in the Pandalam area succumbed to his injuries late on Wednesday night, state police spokesman Pramod Kumar said, adding several injured protesters were still in hospital.

Bindu and Kanaka Durga offered prayers to the deity Lord Ayyappa, who is celibate. The celibacy is the reason women under the age of 50 have been stopped from entering for so long - the fear is that the women could “tempt” the deity.

Dozens had tried to enter the shrine since September after India's Supreme Court ruled the ban was unconstitutional, but all were blocked by thousands of protesters guarding the temple's entrance.

India protesters carry a picture of the Hindu deity Ayyappa at a demonstration following the entry of two women at the Sabarimala temple IMAGE: Getty

When news broke of the women walking inside, groups of angry traditionalists staged demonstrations outside government offices, many waving black flags and blocking traffic.

Police were forced to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

Priests "purified" Sabarimala after the historic visit and are expected to shut the temple until Friday, while Hindu groups have called for a state-wide strike on Thursday to protest.

The women themselves have now been given police protection.

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The area surrounding the Sabarimala Temple has been the scene of angry clashes for months, with many trying to prevent the court's decision from being enacted.

The Supreme Court will listen to petitions put forward to revise orders later this month.

Women are calling for the law change to remain.

A human chain in Kochi in southern Kerala state on January 1. IMAGE: Getty

On Tuesday, millions of women formed a 620-kilometre human chain in support of women being allowed to enter the temple.

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Local government organisers claim five million people took part in the 15-minute peaceful protest.

The demonstration went ahead in a bid to combat inequality and counter the efforts of right-wing groups that support the ban on women.