Women’s rights group Pennuroma, which has been pushing for women to be allowed to scale the Agasthyarkoodam peak, may have to wait another year before their demands are addressed.
The Agasthyarkoodam peak lies within the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thiruvananthapuram. According to a notification issued by the Thiruvananthapuram wildlife warden, which notifies people to apply online for the annual trek, women are not allowed to apply.
Agasthyarkoodam is a part of Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve, and women are allowed access till Athirumala, which is the base station of Agasthyamala. People are allowed to trek for a month every year, with the number of trekkers allowed per day restricted to 100.
Women’s rights group Pennoruma has been strongly advocating for women to be allowed to climb the peak. They have also filed a petition, which is currently in the High Court. The HC was expected to pronounce its final judgment in the case on Wednesday, but it has been postponed to Friday.
Incidentally, applications for the trek will commence on Friday at 11 am. Bookings normally fill up within hours after applications open, due to the sheer number of people who want to scale this peak.
“By the time the court pronounces the verdict, even if it is favourable for us, the applications will be full. This means that our wait is not over yet,” M Sulfath of Pennoruma told TNM.
Part of the Western Ghats, Agasthyarkoodam is the second-highest peak in Kerala. Some people climb the mountain as a pilgrimage. While no formal ban exists, the tribal community living in the region opposes the entry of women in the name of tradition.
Though there have been isolated demands earlier for allowing women to scale the peak, 2017 was the first time that a consolidated demand was made.
In January 2017, after Pennoruma shed light on the unofficial ban on women’s entry and after a discussion, Forest Minister K Raju agreed to women being allowed entry, Sulfath said.
With the Forest Minister’s permission, a group of 51 women began preparing for the journey, which was planned for February. However, tribal outfit Adivasi Mahasabha moved the court against it. The reason cited by the outfit was that traditional rituals don’t allow for the entry of women to the peak.
In February 2017, the High Court issued a stay. Pennoruma moved court challenging this, the judgement of which is expected on Friday.
The Forest Department issued guidelines as directed by the High Court to permit women to trek to the peak, but the government hasn’t made it an order till date.
In November 2017, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests issued guidelines which stated that women above 14 years of age who are mentally sound and physically fit will be permitted for trekking, subject to the discretion of the Forest Department.
“The Forest Department, despite being asked by the High Court many times, doesn’t care to make the guidelines an order. Without making it an order, our plea to be allowed to scale the mountain remains unanswered,” Sulfath added.
However, when TNM posed the question of women not being able to apply for this year’s trek to the Forest Minister, he said he was not aware.
“What matters in this regard are the guidelines issued by the Forest Department. I will check the notification inviting applications for entry to the peak. Maybe it was by mistake that women are not allowed for applying. I will inquire into it,” Raju said.