August 18, 2019

Her Visit to a Men-Only Temple Went Smoothly. Then the Riots Started.

Her Visit to a Men-Only Temple Went Smoothly. Then the Riots Started.

At 1:26 a.m. Ms. Ammini and Ms. Kanakadurga, who uses one name, started the climb toward the temple. Near the mouth of the complex, the women beelined for an entrance for V.I.P.s, seeing that the main door was too clogged with people.

But inside, nobody confronted the women, Ms. Ammini said. A pilgrim offered her water. They capped off a short visit by praying to the deity. “The violent mob was out of that place,” she said. “No devotee raised any voice against our journey to the shrine.”

On the way down, Ms. Ammini said she stopped cooperating with the police, who tried to keep her head covered with a shawl. The women lingered at stalls to buy rice and lemon juice.

“Some of the media said that the police used us,” she said. “The fact is that the police were always the ones who were afraid.”

In the days after the visit, other women tried unsuccessfully to visit the shrine. This week, two women in men’s clothing were turned back. Another woman angrily claimed that she was prevented from going to the temple even after telling the police that she had no uterus. Ms. Ammini burst out laughing when she heard this.

“We definitely have uteruses,” she said.

New challenges await the women. The Supreme Court plans to consider review petitions, though lawyers do not expect a reversal of the verdict. Earlier this week, after the women left a safe house, Ms. Kanakadurga’s mother-in-law beat her so badly with a piece of wood, she said, that she was hospitalized.

Ms. Ammini said she was realistic about her safety, fretting about a recent ominous “silence” in Kerala. But the way forward — “to serve the society, work with Dalits, women, for blacks” — had never been plainer or more urgent, she said.

“They may attack me, they may kill me, but I feel no fear,” she said. “I am struggling for existence.”

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