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Police use tear gas at protest in India after women defy traditional ban on entering Hindu holy site

Police use tear gas at protest in India after women defy traditional ban on entering Hindu holy site
Police deployed tear gas at protesters in the Indian state of Kerala. Outrage grew after two women – backed by a landmark court ruling – entered a shrine which has historically been forbidden to females of menstruating age.

Clashes between police and demonstrators broke out simultaneously in several towns throughout the state, including a large-scale conflict in front of the state parliament in Thiruvananthapuram. The traditionalist Hindu protesters gathered in anger after it became public that the women had entered the Sabarimala temple dedicated to the celibate God Ayyappa.

The pair were legally allowed to do so after the Indian Supreme Court reached a landmark decision last September to remove the ban on women aged between 10 and 50 to worship in the temple. The shrine is one of India’s most holy sites and draws millions of visitors a year. The women – protected by police – entered Sabarimala around 3am local time on Wednesday.

Many of the protesters blame Kerala’s left-wing government for allowing the women to enter.

"Who took them to the temple just after the women's wall? [...] It's clear that the women were under police protection. Police acted on behalf of chief minister's direction. This was a result of the obstinate attitude of the chief minister," opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala proclaimed, according to NDTV.

K. Sudhakaran, vice president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, released a statement which accused the government of “treachery,” adding that they will “pay the price” for violating the religious custom.

The temple was allegedly closed for “purification rituals” after the women left. Groups of women had been prevented from entering since the court decision was reached by massive crowds of male pilgrims who barred the way.

Meanwhile, the state government defended its decision to protect the women, insisting it was a matter of civil rights.

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

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