Kerala, Jan. 1, 2019: In a first, lakhs of women stood should-to-shoulder across the national highways, creating a 620 km-long human ‘wall’ from the northern end of Kasaragod to the southern tip here on Tuesday as part of a state-sponsored initiative to uphold gender equality.
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The event comes days after thousands of devotees lit ‘Ayyappa Jyothies’ (lighting of sacred lamps) and lined up from Hosangadi in Kasargod to Kanyakumari, vowing to protect the age-old customs and traditions of Sabarimala.
On Tuesday, women from various walks of life — writers, athletes, actors, politicians and techies, government officials and homemakers — stood across the highways crisscrossing through the 14 districts in the state as the event commenced at 4 pm.
Expressing solidarity, thousands of men also lined up parallel forming a second human ‘wall’.
The ‘Women’s wall’ was conceived in the backdrop of frenzied protests witnessed in the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala after the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front government decided to implement the Supreme Court verdict, allowing all women to pray at the Ayyappa shrine.
The Women’s Wall was attacked, allegedly by some Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers, at Chettukund in Kasaragod district as they lined up at the National Highway.
The workers hurled stones at the women and policemen, injuring three personnel, police said.
Police fired in the air and burst teargas shells to disperse the workers.
Media personnel of two television channels were also attacked by the miscreants, who reportedly forced them to delete the visuals of the incident.
Adbul Kareem, District Police chief in charge, told PTI that the BJP-RSS workers first set fire to some dried grass and shrubs near the National Highway where the women were standing.
When police tried to chase them away, they pelted stones at the women and police, he said.
Chettukund is a BJP stronghold.
In another incident, some pro-wall activists damaged the window panes of a private bus at Palakkad when it refused to ferry women to participate in the event.
The event is part of an initiative to protect secular values, gender equality and to spread a message against those trying to push society into the dark ages, organisers of the programme said.
Before the formal start of the event, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan garlanded the statue of social reformer ‘Ayyankali’.
CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat and CPI leader Annie Raja also paid floral tributes at the statue.
Vijayan had earlier expressed confidence that women, cutting across lines of caste and religion, would join the ‘wall’ to save Kerala from being “dragged back into the era of darkness.”
CPI-M state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had earlier said that 50 lakh women were expected to take part in the event.
Health minister K K Shylaja led the ‘Women’s Wall’ at Kasaragod and Karat was the last person at the end at Vellayambalam in Thiruvanthapuram.
School students were given half-day holiday, while universities postponed exams scheduled for Tuesday.
The government employees and Technopark employees were allegedly asked to take part in the event, which the main opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front dubbed ‘caste wall’ and ‘wall of contradictions’.
The participants began lining up at the designated centres since 3 pm. A rehearsal was also held.
The ‘wall’ was formed at 4 pm, with participants taking a pledge to uphold gender equality and renaissance values.
The campaign was suggested at a meeting called by the LDF government following massive protests by right-wing parties and a section of devotees over the government’s decision to implement the September 28 apex court order, allowing women of all ages to offer prayers at Sabarimala.