Women’s temple ban debate rages in India flashpoint vote

Indian women are still divided about the ban on women from entering a Hindu temple. (AFP/File)
Updated 23 April 2019

Women’s temple ban debate rages in India flashpoint vote

  • Indian Supreme Court ruled the ban on women from entering a Hindu temple as unconstitutional
  • Two of the three candidates for presidency support the ban

PATHANAMTHITTA, India: Voters in a flashpoint constituency in southern India went to the polls Tuesday after a campaign dominated by the fallout from the controversial decision to allow women to enter a Hindu temple.
The district of Pathanamthitta in the state of Kerala includes the Sabarimala Hindu temple, where two women finally defied a longstanding ban on women of menstruating age last year.
Traditionalists were outraged and many women remain divided over the move, which has overshadowed the campaign with candidates staging election parades on the issue.
Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini made history in December when police guided them into the hilltop shrine, after the Supreme Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional.
Days of pitched battles erupted between traditionalists and activists. The anger has not died down and core issues such as unemployment, health and education have been pushed aside during the campaign.
The whole country is expected to follow the result when it is announced on May 23 after India’s marathon election.
Two of the three main candidates in the election are men who support the ban, while the third is a woman who has tried to dodge the topic.
Veena George, who is standing for the alliance of left wing parties that runs Kerala’s state government cited an election commission advisory to avoid using the temple to get votes.
“We need a revival of job opportunities, agriculture and infrastructure. Educated women need jobs,” she told AFP on the last day of campaigning before Tuesday’s vote.
India’s main opposition Congress party has fielded Anto Antony, who won the last two elections and has backed the traditionalists.
The Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brandished its pro-Hindu credentials as it seeks to make an impact in a state where it has always struggled.
The BJP has fielded K. Surendran, who became the symbol of the massive temple protests across Kerala. He now faces more than 200 police cases related to violence during last year’s Sabarimala protests.
“The Communists have an issue with our prayers and religion but they can’t crush believers’ rights,” Modi told a rally in Kerala last week.
“We won’t tolerate any attack on a tradition that has lasted thousands of years,” Modi added to wild cheers.
Many women have backed the traditionalist cause.
“Local men and women agree. There is only one issue in this election — our faith. And the court shouldn’t have intervened,” Lakshmi, who works at a local hospital, and only uses one name, told AFP.
“I feel hurt as a Hindu when I see things going against our culture and tradition,” added Bindhu, a housewife.
“The temple has always been a place where women could not go. It is not acceptable to see people coming and fighting to enter now,” she added.
Tens of thousands of people, including many women, took part in street marches and protests in support of the ban.
However, uncertainty remains over how many women will vote for their right to enter Sabarimala.
“Women should be free to choose whether to enter or not. To me, women’s safety, here and all over India, is the only issue that is important,” said Ansa S., a medical student.


India reimposes movement curbs on parts of Kashmir’s main city after clashes

Updated 18 August 2019

India reimposes movement curbs on parts of Kashmir’s main city after clashes

  • There were violent overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured
  • India has been fighting a revolt in which at least 50,000 people have been killed

SRINAGAR: Indian authorities reimposed restrictions on movement in major parts of Kashmir’s biggest city, Srinagar, on Sunday after violent overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured, two senior officials and eyewitnesses said.
In the past 24 hours, there has been a series of protests against New Delhi’s Aug. 5 revocation of the region’s autonomy. This followed an easing in curbs on movement on Saturday morning.
The state government has said that it has not imposed a curfew over the past two weeks, but on Sunday people were being turned back at multiple roadblocks set up in the city in the past few hours. Security forces at some roadblocks have told residents there is a curfew.
Two senior government officials told Reuters that at least two dozen people were admitted to hospitals with pellet injuries after violent clashes broke out in the old city on Saturday night.
Representatives in the Jammu and Kashmir government in Srinagar and the federal government in New Delhi did not immediately return calls asking about the latest clampdown or seeking an assessment of the number of injuries and clashes.
One of the official sources said that people pelted security forces with stones in around two dozen places across Srinagar. He said that the intensity of the stone pelting protests has increased over past few days.
The heavy overnight clashes took place mostly in Rainawari, Nowhetta and Gojwara areas of the old city where Indian troops fired tear smoke, chilly grenades and pellets to disperse protesters, eyewitnesses and officials said.
Chilly grenades contain very spicy chili pepper, and produce a major eye and skin irritant, as well as a pungent smell, when they are unleashed.
The officials, who declined to be identified because they aren’t supposed to talk to the media, said clashes also took place in other parts of the city including Soura, a hotbed of protests in the past two weeks.
A senior government official and hospital authorities at Srinagar’s main hospital said that at least 17 people came there with pellet injuries. They said 12 were discharged while five with grievous injuries were admitted.
The hospital officials and a police officer told Reuters that a 65-year-old man, Mohammad Ayub of Braripora, was admitted to the hospital after he had major breathing difficulties when tear gas and chilly grenades were fired in old city area on Saturday afternoon. He died in the hospital on Saturday night and has already been buried, they said.
Javed Ahmad, age 35 and from the wealthy Rajbagh area of Srinagar, was prevented from going to the old city early Sunday morning by paramilitary police at a barricade near the city center. “I had to visit my parents there. Troops had blocked the road with concertina wire. They asked me to go back as there was curfew in the area,” he said.
Telephone landlines were restored in parts of the city on Saturday after a 12-day blackout and the state government said most telephone exchanges in the region would start working by Sunday evening. Internet and cell phones remain blocked in Kashmir.
More than 500 political or community leaders and activists remained in detention, and some have been flown to prisons outside the state.
For 30 years in the part of Kashmir that it controls, India has been fighting a revolt in which at least 50,000 people have been killed. Critics say the decision to revoke autonomy will cause further alienation and fuel the armed resistance.
The change will allow non-residents to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir, and end the practice of reserving state government jobs for local residents.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said the measure is necessary to integrate Kashmir fully into India and speed up its development.