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Police save women from India temple protesters

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Indian police Monday rescued two women who tried to reach one of the holiest Hindu temples in southern Kerala state after they were surrounded by devotees determined to keep women out of the shrine.

Indian police escort Hindu devotees Kanaga Durga (C bottom) and Bindu (C top) after their group of women were stopped by hardline activists during an effort to reach the Sabarimala Ayyapa temple from Pamba in the southern state of Kerala on December 24, 2018. – Hundreds of Hindu activists on December 24 blocked a path leading to one of the religion’s holiest temples in southern India to stop a group of women making a new attempt to reach the landmark, which has been opened to women devotees by an Indian Supreme Court order. (Photo by – / AFP)

Police launched the operation a day after protesters forced 11 other women to call off a bid to reach Sabarimala temple which has been ordered by the Supreme Court to end a longstanding ban on women of child bearing age.

Supporters of the ban have been on alert around the hilltop temple since the court ruling in September. But the two women who made the attempt Monday kept their plans secret.

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“Unlike other women who tried to get to Sabarimala, these two arrived without notice, so hardly anyone knew of their presence,” a police officer posted at the temple told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“They managed to get within two kilometres of the temple when they were spotted by devotees coming down after offering prayers at the temple,” the officer added.

Devotees who were climbing uphill behind the two women also took part in the angry scenes and surrounded the women. Police rushed to the scene to form an escort them away to safety.

“The situation turned tense. Police had no choice but to tell the two women not to make the climb because of law and order problems,” the officer said.

One of the two women told journalists they would make a new attempt.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus — men, young girls and elderly women — normally make the four hour trek to the temple during the end of year Hindu festival period.

Since the court order however, Sabarimala has become a major battleground between devotees and gender activists, sparking protests across the southern state. More than 2,000 people were arrested after clashes around the temple in October.

The temple contains a shrine to Lord Ayyappa, believed to have been the Earth-born son of two of Hinduism’s three main gods, Vishnu (in his female avatar) and Shiva.

The Supreme Court is to hear challenges to its decision to overturn the ban from January 22.

Many Hindu groups and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party oppose the court ruling. They argue that the court has ignored their beliefs that Ayyappa was celibate.

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