Indian women form 385 mile human chain in support of temple equality

Tens of thousands of women in the Indian state of Kerala have formed a series of human chains extending an estimated 620 kilometers (385 miles) as a show of solidarity in protest at a refusal to admit women to the Sabarimala Temple, one of Hinduism's holiest sites.

India's Supreme Court ruled in September that the centuries-old ban on women deemed to be of menstrual age -- defined as from 10 to 50 -- was unconstitutional. But religious protesters have so far made it difficult to enforce the ruling. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear petitions to revise its order later this month.

The state government organized the so-called "women's wall" Tuesday, according to CNN affiliate CNN News 18. The chains were formed for about 15 minutes.

Photos from the protests showed Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala, and Health Minister KK Shylaja in attendance. Thousands of women could be seen raising hands and fists while forming the wall.

The judgment allowing women inside the Sabarimala Temple was the culmination of a decades-long battle to overturn the ban.

The prohibition was first challenged before the Kerala High Court in August 1991, with the high court ruling that only a priest could make the decision on allowing women access to the temple, a golden-roofed structure thought to be more than 800 years old.

It is considered the spiritual home of Lord Ayyappa, a Hindu god of growth.

Nestled atop a steep mountain amid a lush green tiger reserve, it's the site of one of the world's largest annual pilgrimages, with millions of Hindu devotees making the journey each year.

Sabarimala had previously been off-limits to women of menstrual age on religious grounds, with proponents of the ban arguing that since Ayyappa is considered celibate, allowing "impure" women into the shrine would be disrespectful. Others have maintained that women cannot complete the 41 days of penances, a condition required to undertake the pilgrimage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared to side with the conservative protesters who want to bar women from the temple. In an interview with Indian news agency ANI, Modi pointed to the fact that some temples do not allow men inside, though he did not cite specific examples.

Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has previously voiced opposition with the Supreme Court's decision.

Amit Shah, the leader of the BJP, has billed the debate as one between people of faith and an oppressive state government in Kerala.

The BJP has historically espoused Hindu-nationalist positions, and some of its more extreme candidates have been accused of being anti-Muslim.

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