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Temple Protests Partially Shut Down Southern Indian State Of Kerala


The southern Indian state of Kerala stayed partially shut down today. On Wednesday, there were protests after two women in their 40s walked into a prominent Hindu temple. When they did that, they defied a centuries-old tradition that bans women of menstruating age, 10 to 50 years, from going into the temple. NPR's Sushmita Pathak has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: Protesters burned vehicles in parts of Kerala state. One person was killed during stone pelting. In the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, police had to resort to tear gas and water cannons to control their rioters. Two women from the banned age group managed to enter the hilltop shrine under police protection on Wednesday. They started their ascent just after midnight, arriving at the temple around 3:30 in the morning. Social activist Trupti Desai has campaigned for women's entry into temples and mosques. Here she is on "India Today" congratulating the two women.


TRUPTI DESAI: (Through interpreter) This is a historic win for equality and a triumph of women's strength.

PATHAK: Faithful believe that the celibate deity Lord Ayyappa, whom the temple is dedicated to, shouldn't have contact with young women. Some feel they may be a distraction to him, and others think menstruating the men are impure. Devotee Jayashankar Panicker feels betrayed.

JAYASHANKAR PANICKER: I am extremely disappointed by the fact that the Kerala government and the police department tried to sneak in these ladies into the shrine.

PATHAK: India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has called for a 48-hour strike starting today. The BJP, which is the party of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been spearheading the effort to keep women out of the temple, even though India's Supreme Court ruled in September that the ban was discriminatory. Despite that ruling, women were not let in. The two women who managed to enter on Wednesday are under police protection. Following their visit, priests temporarily closed the shrine to perform what they called purification rituals.

Sushmita Pathak, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.