NILAKKAL, India (Reuters) - Conservative Hindu groups including youth members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party returned to an Indian hill temple on Thursday to block women from entering for a second day, in defiance of a court ruling that says banning them is illegal.
For centuries, the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state has banned women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the holy site. But last month, India’s Supreme Court ruled the ban infringed on the right to worship.
Since then, the case has become a focal point for women’s rights in India.
There were clashes between police and protesters when the temple opened for the first time since the ban was lifted on Wednesday, preventing women from entering.
Kerala’s secular state government says it wants to uphold the court’s decision, but Hindu groups, including branches of the BJP and its parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, say the court’s decision is offensive to worshippers.
“A large number of women, who follow the tradition, were not heard; their emotions weren’t respected,” RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat told a rally of supporters on Thursday.
In response, the state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a tweet that the RSS and other Hindu groups “are obstructing believers and spreading terror”.
The temple is located in a remote tiger reserve in the western Ghats mountain range. Many visitors trek through the mountains to get to the temple.
Kerala’s police department has imposed an emergency law until midnight on Friday preventing groups of four or more people from gathering within 30 km (19 miles) of the temple.
A police official, who declined to be identified, said seven members of a youth wing of the BJP were arrested on Thursday after disguising themselves as worshippers and staging a sit-in at Nilakkal, about 18 km (11 miles) from the temple and the main entry point to the site.
On Thursday, a female reporter from the New York Times was pelted with stones while trying to visit the temple. The journalist, Suhasini Raj, abandoned her trip under police protection, footage from Reuters partner ANI showed.
Reporting by Jose Devasia in NILAKKAL, writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Neil Fullick