560 women register to enter flashpoint Indian temple

NEW DELHI: A new standoff between Hindu traditionalists and Indian police over a flashpoint shrine is looming next week, with 560 women reportedly registering to visit the sight when it reopens on Nov 17.

India's Supreme Court in September ruled that all females should be allowed into the Sabarimala hilltop temple in the southern state of Kerala, and not just those under 10 or over 50 as before.

But when the temple reopened in mid-October, a handful of women who wanted to go were prevented by hardliners, who also threw stones at police and assaulted journalists.

Police later detained around 2,000 people. The protesters' anger reflected an old but still prevalent view in some areas of India that connects menstruation with impurity.

The temple opens again on Nov 17 for a Hindu festival period lasting 41 days, and some 300,000 people have registrated to visit — including some 560 women, media reports said.

Police said that several thousand extra officers would be deployed and that tighter restrictions will be in place in an attempt to avoid clashes.

“Now, private vehicles will only be able to get to Nilackal, the first base camp, after getting prior passes (permission) from the local police,” Pramod Kumar, Kerala police spokesman told AFP.

The people will have to board government buses from there to Pamba, the next base camp around 20km away, before they start their on-foot climb to the top of the hill.

The Hindu daily said that Kerala police are considering using a military helicopter to take women to the hilltop site. In October women could not even begin ascending because of the protests.

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Before the re-opening, on Tuesday the Supreme Court is due to hear review challenges against its earlier verdict. More than a dozen complaints have been filed. — AFP