Two more women barred from flashpoint Sabarimala temple in India

One of the two women who made it into Sabarimala temple, Kanakadurga (above), 39, was admitted to hospital after saying she had been assaulted by her enraged mother-in-law with a stick. PHOTO: REUTERS

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, INDIA (AFP) - Hindu devotees barred on Wednesday (Jan 16) two more women from entering one of India's holiest temples, police said, two weeks after two others made history and sparked an uproar by praying inside.

The Sabarimala shrine in the southern state of Kerala has emerged as a burning issue after India's Supreme Court ruled in September that women of menstruating age - deemed as those between 10 and 50 - could enter.

The ruling sparked anger among traditionalists, including supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of elections later this year.

On Jan 2, after protesters prevented other attempts, two women managed to sneak inside just before dawn, prompting days of unrest that left one man dead and led to several thousand arrests.

The fresh attempt by two other women on Wednesday was unsuccessful, however.

"The women were given police protection but could not continue their journey owing to intense protests by other devotees," a Kerala police officer posted in the area told AFP.

"Since their security was at stake, the police had no other option but to bring them back to Pampa (the base camp) from where they were sent (back to the nearest town)," he added.

Local media reports said that they were part of a larger group which also included a 13-year-old girl and five men.

Hindu groups believe that women of menstruating age should not enter as the temple deity, Ayyappa, was celibate.

The Communist Party running Kerala has accused the BJP and the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group of inciting violence in the state, but on Tuesday during a visit Modi hit back.

"The conduct of the Kerala government on Sabarimala issue will go down in history as one of the most shameful behaviours by any party and government," he said at a rally in Kerala.

"We know the Communists do not respect Indian history, culture and spirituality. But nobody imagined they would have such hatred," Modi added.

Women are barred from a handful of Hindu temples in India, including Sabarimala, where it was considered a taboo for centuries before the ban was given legal force by the Kerala High Court in 1991.

The two women who made it in - followed by a third on Jan 4 - spent more than 10 days in different safe houses before emerging this week.

One of them, Kanakadurga, 39, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday after saying she had been assaulted by her enraged mother-in-law with a stick.

The Supreme Court is due to start hearing a legal challenge on its ruling from Jan 22.

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