Life on the run from the pioneers of the Indian temple of Sabarimala

Because they aroused the anger of Hindu traditionalists by being the first women of childbearing age who entered a large Indian temple after the abolition of a ban, Bindu Ammini and Kanaka Durga are icons, but icons that have to live are hidden.

Dressed in black robes and under cover of the night, the two women escaped the dams of devotees around the temple of the Ayyappa deity in Sabarimala, in the state of Kerala (South India), and gathered there just before dawn on January 2 . Their actions caused violent demonstrations in this tropical region, where more than a thousand people were arrested.

Although their approach has made them pioneers in the eyes of equal rights advocates between men and women, it has also forced them to move from one shelter to another because of threats to them. . A run organized by a network of friends and supporters.

When the AFP meets them in a place that is kept secret for security reasons, they are in their tenth shelter in less than two weeks and prepare to depart in an eleventh shelter the next morning.

To gain access to the two women, you have to go through a whole series of intermediaries, change cars and switch off mobile phones before they are taken to a villa where the duo is waiting.

"I wanted to exercise my right as a believer, nothing more," says Kanaka Durga, a 39-year-old official. "It was a new step forward to strengthen gender equality."

– & # 39; Pilgrims like the others & # 39; –

The Sabarimala temple has become the new front line for women's rights in India.

This sanctuary, one of the holiest of Hinduism, has been the subject of twenty years of legal battles around the ban for all women of this age to have their periods between 10 and 50 years. Regulated women are often considered impure in this conservative and patriarchal society.

The battle ended in September 2018 when the Indian Supreme Court declared this measure discriminatory. The court allowed all women to go to this hill temple, which requires a few hours of walking.

But the virulent opposition of the traditionalists, supported by the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, transformed the pilgrimage site into a fortress. Women who tried to reach Sabarimala were forbidden by force. Until Bindu Ammini and Kanaka Durga none of them had succeeded.

The two interested parties met on social networks after the decision of the Supreme Court. They were among the many women who tried to access the temple when it reopened in the fall, for the first time after the judges were arrested, but had to leave the company in exchange for violence.

On January 2, during their successful attempt, "the true believers did not give us any problem, we stopped for a drink and they all behaved as if we were pilgrims like the others," says Bindu Ammini, a 40-year-old professor in the rights.

"They are just a handful of politically motivated people who create problems," she says.

"The police made sure we went out of the temple safely, but then we did not want to involve them, so we only do it," says Kanaka Durga.

– Family –

The two women hope to end their careers in the coming days and resume the normal course of their lives. But first and foremost, they will face new dissatisfied members of their families.

"I have the full support of my family except my mother, who sincerely believes that I should not have violated the tradition," says Bindu Ammini. "But I know she cares for me, I respect her right to a different opinion."

As far as she was concerned, Kanaka Durga had not told her family that she would go to Sabarimala: "If I had told them, they would certainly have done everything to block me, because I did not tell them, there is friction between us but I think it will only be temporary. "

"Most people are with me and that encourages me."

A few hours after the pilgrimage of the two women, who had great influence throughout the country, the priest of the temple of Ayyappa performed rituals of purification of the place, as they were defiled by their arrival.

Some officials of the Narendra Modi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power in New Delhi, accused Bindu Ammini and Kanaka Durga of being anarchists and anti-Hindus, who totally reject them.

"We were not the first to attempt to enter Sabarimala, many women have tried it in the past, but have failed," Kanaka Durga said.

"I am a believer who has always wanted to worship Ayyappa in the temple of Sabarimala."