A third woman entered the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, southern India, Thursday, prompting fears of fresh violence after the visit of two other women sparked deadly riots earlier this week.
Identified by local media as 46-year-old Sri Lankan national Sasikala, the woman entered the temple alongside her husband under police escort.
Thousands of Hindus protested outside the building, steadfast in their belief that women between 10 and 50 — menstruating age — should not be allowed to enter the temple.
Sasikala said she had presented medical documentation that proved her uterus had been removed and as such could not menstruate.
She also said she had completed a 48-day fast, thereby fulfilling all the necessary requirements to enter the temple of celibate deity Lord Ayyappa.
The Kerala law, dating back centuries, forbids women of menstruating age from entering the temple as they are seen as impure and would offend the god.
The Supreme Court overruled that ban in September, but thousands of hardliners — many of them women — have succeeded in blocking women from entering the temple, until now.
Sasikala’s entrance came a day after Bindu and Kanaka Durga, both in their early 40s, made history by walking into the building.
The incident led to widespread protests in Kerala, with the ruling BJP party — of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — and the main opposition Congress party, supporting calls to reinstate the ban.
Violent clashes broke out between religious devotees and political activists supporting Kerala’s ruling leftist alliance, both of whom clashed with riot police firing tear gas and water cannon Wednesday and Thursday.
One man was killed and at least 15 were injured, including four stabbings. Police said Friday that the situation in Kerala was “normal for now.”
Much of Kerala ground to a halt Thursday as conservative Hindus conducted a strike that saw businesses close and transport halted, a protest at the left-wing Kerala state government’s support for the right of women to enter the temple.
Members of the BJP have accused Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan of using state funds to organize protests and using “police to stage manage entry of ‘activists masquerading as devotees’ in Sabarimala.”
Others have questions why non-Hindus should have a say over who is and isn’t allowed to enter the temple.
Cover image: In this photo taken on January 2, 2019 Indian police disperse activists laying on the ground at a protest after two women entered the Sabarimala Ayyapa temple, near the Police Commissioners Office in Kochi. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)