2 women enter Hindu temple in India, breaking years-long ban

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While the group from Tamil Nadu returned home, the two from Kozhikode and Malappuram districts returned and scripted history in a dramatic pre-dawn mission on 2 January.

Earlier, the Kerala state president of the BJP described the women's visit as "a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples". "There were men, too, who stood up in support and solidarity, affirming their commitment to gender equality". "By recognising it as a contempt of court and extremely casteist in nature, we demand that the government take necessary legal action against the chief", a statement by the collective read. According to reports, two women, Bindu and Kanakadurga, successfully completed their trek and worshipped the deity inside the temple. The devotees erected a human wall when they reached close to the temple and prevented them from proceeding further. Four policemen in civilian clothes also accompanied them.

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. The protests are orchestrated by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar for their political gains.

The Kerala state government has sought to permit women to enter the Sabarimala temple. Though the government claimed that the women's wall had nothing to do with Sabarimala, the Opposition parties believed that it was aimed at facilitating the women's entry into the temple. "We hope that the state's secular and democratic section of the public would protest strongly and extensively against these communal forces", it said. Five female protesters who tried to barge into the state parliament were arrested.

The attempts to enter the temple and resulting protests have become a flashpoint as some Hindu hardliners in the nationalist BJP-led country try to defend what they see as core values in Hindu-majority India.

Numerous protesters blame Kerala's left-wing government for allowing the women to enter. Clashes broke out between protesters and the police in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, on Wednesday afternoon.

Police with batons also charged at protesters who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops in the area.

A backlash swiftly followed the news of the women's entry into the shrine on Wednesday.

Kerala state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said: "It is a fact that the women entered the shrine".

The sanctuary is dedicated to the god of growth and celibacy, Ayyappa, and women of menstruating age are traditionally not allowed to enter the grounds.

The restriction on women at Sabarimala, situated on top of a 3,000-foot (915-metre) hill in a tiger reserve that takes hours to climb, reflects a belief - not exclusive to Hinduism - that menstruating women are impure.

"Let all the devotees come forward and protest this", Pillai told local television news channels.

On Tuesday, millions of women in Kerala joined hands to form a human link that stretched more than 600 kilometers.

In a surprise predawn operation heralded by activists, but opposed by conservative devotees, police enabled the two women, both 42, to enter the hilltop temple and then leave again undetected, officials said. He said that the women had gone to Sabarimala with the help of CPM leaders.

"The historic moment, caught on video, shows two women with their heads covered", reports NPR's Sushmita Pathak.