A heavy deployment of policemen ensured that the protestors, comprising women, trans persons and men, weren’t allowed near the peak.

Allow women to scale Agasthyarkoodam demand protestors who hoisted flag near peakFile Photo
news Women's Rights Friday, January 26, 2018 - 17:28

Taking the fight to allow women to scale the Agasthyarkoodam peak to the next level, a group of 30 people hoisted the national flag near the peak to register their protest against the ‘unwritten’ ban.

The group that comprised women, transgender persons and men, reached Bonacaud on Thursday and tried scaling the peak, but they were stopped by policemen.

This protest was organised by women’s collectives, Pennoruma, Answeshi and Wings Kerala, along with various trekking groups. VP Suhra, a Kozhikode-based activist, kicked off the protest.

It had been announced earlier that they would protest by hoisting a flag near the peak on Republic Day. Police personnel had been deployed in large numbers to prevent them from entering.

The protest was scheduled for Republic Day, for this was the day the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality for all, came into existence. The protestors said that they were of the view that women had been allowed to scale the peak in the past and the ban was of “recent development”.

It was in 2017 that a consolidated demand to allow women to scale the peak, within Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thiruvananthapuram, was raised. While the issue is sub judice, the Forest Department in its notification inviting applications for this year’s trekking said that women shouldn’t apply.

“We are determined that we will scale the peak this year itself. If the court will not be in favour of us, we will go for an appeal,” said Rajitha, who is a part of Pennoruma.

Forest Minister K Raju, following the discussion with the women’s representatives had in January 2017 given permission for the women to scale the peak, and a group of 51 women began preparing for it. But a tribal outfit, Adivasi Mahasabha, moved the High Court against it, and the Court issued a stay in February 2017 on the women’s entry. The tribal outfit cited traditional rituals which don’t allow the entry of women to the peak beyond Athirumala as the reason for opposing it. 

Pennoruma moved the court challenging the stay. The Forest Department issued guidelines as directed by the High Court permitting women trekkers to the peak. But the government so far hasn’t made it an order. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests issued the guidelines in November 2017, which says that women above 14 years of age who are mentally and physically sound will be permitted for trekking, subject to discretion of the department.

If the guidelines aren’t converted to an order, the women’s groups say, their demand will never be addressed. The court was expected to pronounce its final judgment in the case in the first week of January, but the judgement has been postponed.

Agasthyarkoodam is the second-highest peak in the state and it attracts trekkers and tourists alike in large numbers every year. It is also a part of the Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve and women are allowed to enter only until Athirumala, which is the base station of Agasthyamala.

This year's trekking season began on January 14 and will end on February 13.