5 million women in India formed a human chain to protest gender inequality at a major shrine

No matter where you live in the world, gender equality has yet to become a reality. But that doesn’t stop advocates from fighting against sexism every single day. Recently, in India, protesters formed a human chain in response to a Hindu temple’s ban on women.

BBC News reports that yesterday, January 1st, about five million people from across the Indian state of Kerala gathered at Sabarimala temple to demand gender equality. Sabarimala temple is a major shrine and the largest annual pilgrimage site in the world (millions of people visit every year). Those gathered formed a “women’s wall” that stretched nearly 385 miles in protest of the temple’s historic ban on women of “menstruating age” (between 10 and 50). The protest was organized by Kerala’s local government, which originally expected three million demonstrators.

India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September 2018 after the practice had been in place for centuries. However, according to The Guardian, conservativeprotesters have since blocked women from entering the temple, and some, like India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have argued that the ban was a matter of religious custom, not sexism.

As the BBC notes, Hindu temples traditionally allow women to worship on their premises—unless they’re on their periods. But the deity of Sabarimala temple, Lord Ayyappa, is said to have taken an oath of celibacy. For this reason, women under 50 are regarded as “temptations.”

"Of course, I support the move to allow women of all ages into the temple," one demonstrator, Kavita Das, told BBC Hindi. "I don't think tradition or any kind of backwardness should stop women. Those who want to pray must have the right to pray."


Pinarayi Vijayan, the head of Kerala’s government, also celebrated the protest in a tweet.

The Times of India reports that early on January 2nd, after the women’s wall dispersed, two women in their 40s entered the shrine to offer their prayers. According to HuffPost, 44-year-old Kanakadurga and 42-year-old Bindu were the first women to successfully enter Sabarimala temple. In response, the temple was closed for a purification ceremony.

We’re in awe of the brave demonstrators fighting for the right to worship. Here’s to hoping that 2019 brings much-needed change.

Filed Under
 •  •