Four women were forced to stop their trek to the hill shrine of Sabarimala in Kerala on Sunday as protests continued for the fifth day, Manorama reported.

Two women were blocked at Neelimala, the entry point to the Sabarimala trekking path. They had reportedly gone with some male relatives and without police protection. The police took them back to Pamba, an important landmark on the route to Sabarimala.

Another woman was stopped at Nadapanthal after devotees began protesting. She was also taken back to Pamba after she complained of uneasiness. The fourth woman was stopped at Pamba itself, the report said.

The four women were identified as Balamma, Pushparaj, Vasanthi and Adishesha. They are all either from Andhra Pradesh or Telangana.

Women of menstruating age have traditionally not been allowed into the temple, but a Supreme Court order last month put an end to the restriction. There have been protests outside the shrine since Wednesday, when the temple gates opened to devotees for monthly rituals for the first time since the court’s order. Protestors have blocked women devotees, activists and journalists who have tried to enter the temple since Wednesday.

A 52-year-old woman was able to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on Saturday only after she showed protestors proof of her age. The situation outside the shrine was tense after rumours among protestors that the woman was less than 50 years old.

The police, meanwhile, turned away a Dalit woman in her 30s who had come to Pamba to visit the shrine. The police told Manju, a leader of the Kerala Dalit Federation, that she could not proceed to the temple due to security reasons. She has vowed to return on Sunday or Monday.

The row

Those who oppose the traditional ban on women entering the shrine contend that it is prejudiced against women and is linked to orthodox notions of menstruating women being impure. However, temple authorities and protestors argue that Ayyappa was believed to have taken a vow of celibacy and the restriction was meant to respect his mission and keep the deity away from distraction. They say this practice has been followed down the ages, because worshippers were required to fast for 41 days before undertaking the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, something that menstruating women could not undergo for physiological regions.

The Left government in the state has decided to implement the court ruling and not file a review petition, while the Opposition Congress and the BJP have accused the state of showing “undue haste” in implementing the order. The National Ayyappa Devotees Association and the Nair Service Society have filed review petitions in the top court.

Several women attempted to trek up to the hill shrine on Friday, including activist Rehana Fatima, journalist Kavitha Jakkal, and a devotee Mary Sweety. Jakkal and Fatima abandoned the trek amid protests, and Sweety said there was no option but to return.