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Women take historic step into India shrine

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Two Indian women have made history by entering a prominent Hindu shrine in the southern state of Kerala, following months of protests against their entry.

The Sabarimala temple was historically closed to women of “menstruating age” – defined as between 10 and 50.

The Supreme Court overturned that ban but protesters then attacked women and stopped them from going in.

The women’s entry to the shrine sparked fresh protests and police used tear gas at several locations in Kerala.

Bindu Ammini, 40, and Kanaka Durga, 39, devotees of the temple deity, Lord Ayyappa, entered around dawn.

“We arrived early in the morning and we had a darshan [saw the idol] for a few minutes,” Ms Ammini told the BBC.

Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whose government supports the Supreme Court ruling, told reporters that the women’s entry into the temple was a historic moment.

On 1 January, his left-wing coalition government organised a “women’s wall” – in which women from across Kerala formed a 620km (385-mile) human chain to protest against the ban.

Temple officials say the women have “defiled” the temple. It was closed for an hour in order to perform “purification rituals” but has now reopened.

Demonstrations across the state have since erupted and police have fired tear gas to disperse crowds. Violent clashes have been reported outside the state parliament, according to local media.

The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also called for a two-day protest after news of the women entering the shrine broke.

Why are women of a certain age not allowed to enter Sabarimala?

Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals.

While most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple is unusual in that it was one of the few that did not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.

According to the temple’s mythology, Lord Ayyappa is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy. Devotees say the ban on women of “menstruating age” was in keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down clear rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.

Women who had tried to enter following the court ruling had to turn back because of protesters. Police arrested more than 2,000 people in October for rioting and unlawful assembly.