Women can now trek to Agasthyarkoodam: Kerala govt opens online registrations

On Nov 30, 2018, the Kerala HC had ruled that gender-based restrictions can’t be imposed, thereby lifting the unofficial ban on entry of women to the peak.
Women can now trek to Agasthyarkoodam: Kerala govt opens online registrations
Women can now trek to Agasthyarkoodam: Kerala govt opens online registrations

While a row over entry of women aged between 10 and 50 in Sabarimala has irked right-wing forces leading to state-wide rioting in Kerala, the state forest department has opened online registration for women to trek Agasthyarkoodam. 

“The registration is open from today,” an official statement from the State Forest Minster K Raju, confirmed.

Additionally, PP Pramod IFS (Full Additional charge) from Kerala Forest department also confirmed the same. 

“Yes, from today, online registration to trek Agasthyaarkoodam for women has started,” the official said. 

Agasthyarkoodam is a pilgrimage centre within the Neyyar wildlife sanctuary. 

On November 30, 2018, the Kerala High Court had ruled that no gender-based restrictions can be imposed on those wishing to make treks to Agasthyarkoodam, thereby lifting the unofficial ban on the entry of women to the mountain peak.

"In case permission is being granted for trekking in the year 2019, it is made clear that restrictions shall not be imposed only on the ground of the gender of the trekker", observed Justice Anu Sivaraman, while disposing of two petitions in relation to Agastyarkoodam.

Meanwhile, K Ajitha from Anweshi, an NGO which stands up for the rights of women, said that it’s a welcome move.

“We fought for gender equality. Women who want to trek Agasthyaarkoodam can do it. Women should not be barred from places on the basis of gender,” she said, adding that it’s the same stand they have taken in Sabarimala women entry too. 

Every year, the Forest department permits a limited supervised trek to this peak for registered persons. Though the guidelines of the department specifically permitted physically fit women above the age of 14 years to participate in the annual trek, there was opposition from some quarters to women entry.

When the department restricted the entry of women beyond Athiramala, in regards to the sentiments of Kani tribe, it was challenged by two women organizations- ' Women Integration and Growth through Sports (WINGS)' and 'Anweshi'.  

They contended that the claims of Kani tribe as traditional forest dwellers are not crystallized rights, as the conditions in Forests Rights Act 2006 were not fulfilled. Also, their claims work against the basic fundamental human rights of women to participate in a trek to Agastyarkoodam.

However, members of the Kani tribe claim that they have been traditionally worshipping the idol of Agastya Muni in the hill and that it was customary for women not to go near the idol. 

According to them, permitting women to go beyond Athiramala in Agastyarkoodam will interfere with their traditional rights of worship. So, they challenged the guidelines of the department to the extent that they permitted women entry up to this point.

Petitions by the Kani tribe and the women organizations were jointly considered. Initially, the Court passed an interim order interdicting the entry of women beyond Athiramala.

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