On January 1st, 2019 at 3 P.M., the biggest movement for women’s rights in India occurred, as almost 5 million women lined up across the length of the state Kerala, India. Forming a 385-mile human chain, these amazing women protested gender inequality in India and a Hindu temple, named Sabarimala Temple, centuries-old ban on all women of menstruating age”. Sabarimala Temple is one of India’s holiest sites, and when several male devotees threatened several women to leave their attempt to enter the Sabarimala temple violently, it was apparent that there was an imperative need to take a stand.
The Left Democratic Front, a coalition of political parties in Kerala, led by the state chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, organized this “Women’s Wall” or “Vanitha Mathil” in the local language of Malayalam. With no state funding, several independent women’s organizations and smaller political parties in Kerala funded this amazing show of strength of women in India. From more than 176 social and political organizations, volunteers came together to make this inspiring event happen. Promoting on social media and news channels, even through word of mouth in small towns, and eventually, on January 1st, buses were arranged to transport women along with different areas along the highway. By 4 P.M., all 5 million women joined hands and took a pledge for equality.
For many of the women who participated, this movement was not just a political or religious issue, it was an extremely personal issue. One of the women who participated, named Madhavan, said that she’s “head so many older women say that they’re impure when they’re menstruating and it’s disturbing. I didn’t want the impressionable young girls I teach to imbibe the same message. I wanted to be a part of this because I believe it’s time for awareness and for change.” (NPR) India hasn’t always been open to the dismantling of the patriarchy and the equality of women and men, but with a movement like this, more and more people in India are supporting gender equality. Many men came out and lined the other side of the highway to show their support. The protest, consisting of millions of women, children, and a huge turnout of men, proves how the country is gradually awakening to gender equality. Another woman who participated in the Women’s Wall said “After all, it is our constitutional right. But it’s significant that many men supported the protest as well; we weren’t alone in this.” (NPR)
The next day after the Women’s Wall, 2 women finally managed to visit the sacred Sabarimala Temple, escorted by police to avoid mobs that kept women away previously. Unfortunately, India’s far-right ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned women entering the Sabarimala shrine, saying that it attacked India’s long-standing religious values. A spokesperson for this party named K Sudhakaran described the fact of two women entering the temple as “treachery” and that the left-wing state government “will have to pay the price for the violation of the custom” (Mashable). On Thursday, the right-wing groups declared a hartal, a strike including closing shops around the temple. Violent protests and mobs broke out, throwing stones and crude bombs in the streets, leaving 1 person dead and 14 injured. Despite all the violence, women are not standing down, recognizing that social change does not happen in a day. But, if India keeps on progressing with movements such as this, a new era of feminism will happen in India, creating a better world for the next generation to embrace.