Hindus chant devotional songs during a protest against reports of two women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala temple, one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.
Image: Associated Press

On Tuesday, an estimated five million people formed a 385-mile human chain across Kerala, India, called the “women’s wall.” CNN reports that women led the peaceful protest, which lasted for 15 minutes, to support the end of a centuries-long practice of banning menstruating women from the Sabarimala Temple, one of India’s holiest sites.

“There were so many women and there wasn’t even space for women to extend arms. If they had extended their arms, the length of the wall would have increased so much that women would be falling in the Arabian Sea,” Subhashini Ali, protester and member of Kerala’s governing communist party, told CNN.

The shrine has been a protest site since September, when India’s Supreme Court struck down the ban against girls and women aged 10 to 50 as discriminatory. CNN reports that while police deployed “a 1,300-strong contingent of officers to ensure the safety of any women wishing to visit the temple,” thousands of Hindu traditionalists who support the ban have blocked them from entering the temple, which honors the celibate Hindu god of growth, Lord Ayyappa. Hindu traditionalists argue that menstruating women would “tempt” the deity.

The BJP, India’s ruling party of Hindu nationalists, have opposed the decision, while the Communist Party of India-Marxist Party, which governs Kerala, supports the step towards gender equality. The Guardian reports that PS Sreedharan Pillai, the BJP’s head in Kerala, called the visit “a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples.”

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On Wednesday, two women, Bindu and Kanaka Durga, both in their 40s, became the first to enter the temple since the Court struck down the ban. They arrived around 3:45 a.m, escorted by officers. After their visit, Hindu priests closed the temple for an hour to “purify” the temple and protests broke out between the two parties. Police unleashed teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. The Guardian reports that the temple will remain closed on Thursday in protest of the rule allowing women into the sacred space.

The BJP continues to fight the Supreme Court ruling. In January, the Supreme Court will petitions asking the court to reverse its September order.