ECP coach Kez talks about a protest in India. To find out more, read this week’s Weekly English Practice!
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They were asserting their right to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala – and have given hope for women’s rights
Read and check you understand this vocabulary before you read and listen to the text:
to uphold: to maintain
pilgrimage: a journey to a place of particular interest
to shove: to push (someone or something) roughly
mob: a large crowd of people who can cause trouble or violence
to make it in: to get into a place (with an element of difficulty)
to vow: to solemnly promise to do a specified thing
to grant entry: to allow someone to go into a place
to hold equal weight: to be of equal importance
to rekindle: to reignite or revive
pledge: a solemn promise
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On 1st January, in one of the biggest movements for women’s rights in India, 5 million women lined up across the length of the southern state of Kerala to “uphold Renaissance values”. What they were demanding was an end to violent demonstrations against women trying to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, a popular Hindu pilgrimage site.
Since 1991, the temple has accepted only men and older women, in their millions every year, to preserve the mythological celibacy of the ruling deity, Ayyappa. Between 17th November and 24th December, more than a dozen women of menstrual age, including reporters, tried to enter the temple but were stopped, shoved and stoned by mobs of male devotees. None of the women could make it in, despite police protection and prohibitory orders. Both sides are far from giving in. Protests have since continued, though most women who were sent back by the mobs have vowed to return.
The wider debate Sabarimala has thrown up is between the logic in granting women entry to one of India’s most popular temples at a time when they have the same rights as men in most arenas, and the dangers of a court imposing a social reform for which the intended society is far from prepared.
That neither of India’s two biggest parties can openly support the women’s constitutional right to enter a temple confirms the country’s complicated realities.
If the legend of Ayyappa’s celibacy is sacred to his devotees, and therefore worthy of exemption from state intervention, then similar appeals from believers of other faiths should hold equal weight – for instance some sections of India’s Muslim society have appealed against the Indian government’s continuing strike-down of “triple talaq”, which allows Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives.
But the sight of the 385 mile (620km) “women’s wall” – one of the largest ever congregations of women in the world – has rekindled hopes for a genuine movement.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the highways was a wide range of women – young and old, rural and urban, farmers and doctors, activists and actors – taking the pledge to fight for gender equality. Early the next morning, two women – Bindu Hariharan (42) and Kanaka Durga (44) – went to Sabarimala. They had visited the temple on 24th December, but were prevented from entering by rioting protesters. They had said they would get in – and sure enough, on this occasion, they got in.
Adapted from www.theguardian.com by ECP coach Darren Kurien
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