NILAKKAL (Kerala) • Right-wing Hindu groups attacked women journalists at an Indian hill temple yesterday, in their bid to prevent women of menstrual age entering for the first time in centuries, despite the presence of police.
The Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala has been the cause of tension since India's top court ruled last month that banning some women from entering it infringed their right to worship.
Hardline Hindu groups have threatened to commit suicide to prevent women from entering the temple in a cultural battle between the Supreme Court, that has recently delivered landmark rulings legalising gay sex and adultery, and traditional bodies that still hold sway in a deeply religious country.
The Hindu groups, that include Shiv Sena, a former ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, say the prohibition on women of menstrual age entering is required to appease the temple's chief deity, Ayyappan, who is considered eternally celibate by followers.
Kerala's Communist government, which runs the state along secular lines, has pledged to uphold the court ruling. But some female worshippers have been prevented from proceeding towards the temple site, which was expected to open yesterday to worshippers for the first time since the court decision.
A female reporter from CNN News 18 was attacked by protesters, who smashed the windows of the car in which she was travelling, in view of the police.
"It was shocking that officers were there doing nothing," the reporter, Ms Radhika Ramaswamy, said in a broadcast. "Protesters had free rein, attacking our vehicle."
Footage from CNN NEWS 18 showed police chasing protesters through dense forest near Nilakkal, the main entry point to the temple, which is about 18km away.
The protesters had been throwing stones, the channel reported.
Ms Saritha Balan, a journalist from online publication The News Minute, said she was kicked by protesters while accompanying devotees trying to access the site, while camera crews from other TV channels had their vehicles vandalised.
Earlier, a lone woman travelling to Sabarimala by bus was stopped at the bus stand near the gateway by a group of protesters.
The woman, identified as Libi by local language channel Asianet News, came from the neighbouring district of Alappuzha.
"When democracy and the Supreme Court order are being defied by protesters, I have come with the firm intent of visiting Sabarimala," Libi, who uses only one name, told the channel. "I am not scared. The police are providing full security. I have come alone," she said, adding she was ready to face trouble.