India

Transgender women pray at India's Sabarimala temple

The transgender women pray at the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala state Image copyright A S Satheesh
Image caption The transwomen were accompanied by some 20 police officers

Four transgender women have been allowed to pray at an Indian temple at the centre of a bitter row over whether women should be permitted to enter.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling allowing women devotees into the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala state, they have been blocked repeatedly by mobs.

The transgender women, all wearing black sarees, were allowed to enter on Tuesday under police protection.

The temple has historically been closed to women of "menstruating age".

The group of transgender women had been blocked from accessing the temple on Sunday by police, citing security concerns.

Image copyright A S Satheesh
Image caption The four joined prayers at the temple on Tuesday

Before September's Supreme Court ruling, transgender women were allowed to enter the shrine, but since the decision - which sparked violent protests - some police officials had suggested that transgender women should dress as men in order to gain access.

They refused and took their case to a committee set up by the Kerala High Court.

The panel agreed that they could pray at the shrine, and temple officials also said they did not object to the transgender women because they do not menstruate.

'We followed the rituals'

The earlier ban on women between the ages of 10 to 50 entering the Sabarimala shrine was in place partly because the temple deity, Lord Ayyappa, was a bachelor, the shrine's management had said.

The court ruling ending the ban led to security concerns as women, including activists, were met with protests from members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other allied organisations.

These organisations wanted tradition to be followed, despite the ruling of the court on 28 September based on the fundamental rights of women.

Image copyright A S Satheesh
Image caption Their presence was not met with protests or resistance, police said

One of the transgender women, 33-year-old Trupthi, told BBC Hindi on Tuesday that women like her were "very much part of Hinduism" and were respected as such.

"I am very happy that we were able to pray [to Ayyappa]. We are devotees... we had followed all the rituals that a pilgrim should follow to visit the shrine," Trupthi said.

She added that the other transgender women to pray at the shrine were Ananya, 26, Renjimol, 30, and Avantika, 24.

They were accompanied by some 20 police officers, but their presence at the temple was not met with protests or resistance, police said.

Reporting by BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi

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