Bindu Ammini, 42, and Kanakadurga, 41, made history on Wednesday when they became the first women of menstruating age to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple since the Supreme Court in September lifted the traditional ban on women under 50 praying at the shrine.

Setting out from Ernakulam on Tuesday night, they reached Pampa, the entry point to Sabarimala, in the early hours and asked for a police escort. Then they trekked up the hill to the shrine and offered prayers in the sanctum sanctorum at around 3.45 am on Wednesday.

“Police gave us protection after we stood firm on our decision to offer prayers at the temple,” Bindu, as she is popularly known, told Manorama News TV channel. “We began our trek through the hilly terrain at 2.30 am and offered prayers at 3.30 am. The devotees who were present there did not trouble us.”

Thus ended the three-month wait for women aged 10 to 50 to enter the Sabarimala shrine. In a landmark ruling on September 28, the Supreme Court had struck down the ban on the entry of menstruating-age women into the temple. By the end of 2018, at least 17 women had attempted to enter the shrine, only to be thwarted by workers of the Sangh Parivar and Hindutva organisations aligned to it. They have been agitating against the Supreme Court order, claiming the presence of menstruating-age women would defile the shrine.

Bindu and Kanakadurga had first tried to enter Sabarimala on December 24 but had to abandon their trek following protests by the Hindutva agitators. Undeterred, they bided their time, staying in a secret location for a week, away from media glare and police surveillance. Finally, a day after Kerala’s women formed a 620-km human wall to express their support for gender justice, Bindu and Kanakadurga managed to enter the shrine. Even mediapersons stationed near the sanctum sanctorum were unaware about them.


Gender justice activist

In her younger days, Bindu was active in student politics. She served as a leader of the Kerala Vidyarthi Sanghatana, a leftist student organisation. She took to teaching after completing a Master’s in Law from Kerala University, and currently teaches at the School of Legal Studies, Kannur University.

Bindu is also a Dalit activist. She is known among her friends and students as someone with unflinching commitment to ensuring gender and social justice.

Ashbin Krishna, a lawyer who studied under her, said she is “a darling of her students”. “She has got strong political views. She always supported students’ politics,” he said.

Bindu’s students “love her lectures on gender justice”, Krishna added. “She is an expert on the subject.”

Bindu is married to the political activist Hariharan. They have an 11-year-old daughter named Olga and live in Pookkad, Kozhikode district.


‘A devout Hindu’

Kanakadurga got acquainted with Bindu through a Facebook page called Navothana Keralam Sabarimalayilekku, or Renaissance Kerala marches to Sabarimala. The page is basically an online meeting place for women who wish to go to Sabarimala.

Kanakadurga works as a manager with the Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation, a government enterprise. She is married to Krishnanunni, an engineer, and is mother to two children. The family lives in Malappuram.

She belongs to the upper caste Nair community. Her brother Bharath Bhushan described Kanakadurga as a devout Hindu and said he does not know why she decided to go to Sabarimala.

Bhushan’s family filed a missing persons complaint last week after Kanakadurga did not return home following her aborted attempt to enter Sabarimala. They even called a press conference to highlight her disappearance. Kanakadurga responded through a video in which she said she was under police protection: “I will return home after a couple of days. For security reasons, I cannot divulge details about my whereabouts now.”