The Battle for Sabarimala

How a Hindu Temple Became a Crucible for Indian Gender Politics

Supporters of the BJP and the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at a protest in Kochi, India, January 2019  Sivaram V/REUTERS

Over the past six months, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of women have lined up to honor a Hindu deity at a temple in southern India. Only two of them have made it in. The rest, pilgrims to one of the country’s most unusual religious sites, have been blockaded, shouted at, pelted with stones, and beaten back by angry protesters. Of the two women who succeeded in viewing the deity, one was thrown out of her marital home and separated from her children, and both have received death threats.

The Hindu temple at Sabarimala, in the state of Kerala, has been at the center of a raging political and legal controversy for nearly three years. At the core of this dispute is the temple’s policy banning women between the ages of ten and 50 from entering its premises—a ban that some argue is unconstitutional. In September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court

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