After their historic entry at Sabarimala temple, women will set out for their first ever trek to Agasthyakoodam peak in Kerala for 41 days, starting January 14. And if the entry of young women to Sabarimala shrine was enabled by a Supreme Court order, a recent High Court order has paved the way for women to Agastya hill.
Women were thus far not allowed to take part in the annual trek to the 1,868-metre peak, situated within the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thiruvananthapuram district. On November 30 last year, Justice Anu Sivaraman of High Court ruled that restrictions cannot be imposed on the basis of gender of a participant while granting permission to visitors to trek the peak.
The judgment came on a petition in High Court by two women’s organisations: the Malappuram-based Women Integration and Growth through Sports, and the Kozhikode-based Anweshi.
On Saturday, the Kerala Forest Department started online registration for trekking, and booking for this year got over within two hours.
Wildlife Warden (Thiruvananthapuram) Shaji Kumar said with 100 trekkers a day, 4,100 visitors would be given entry during the 41-day annual season. “The number of women applicants will be known only after (all) registrations are processed. There would not be any special facilities for women trekkers, who are being permitted to go up the peak for the first time, climbing extremely difficult terrain,’’ he said.
The state Forest Department thus far gave trekking permission only to men in view of opposition from the Kani tribal community, which worships Agastya Muni.
The Kani community does not have any temple at Agasthyakoodam – there is only an idol. They cannot conduct any worship at the peak. The court has also stated that no trekker would be permitted to the area where the idol is situated.
According to members of Kani tribe, they have been traditionally worshiping the idol of Agastya Muni in the hill, and it is customary for women to not go near the idol. According to them, permitting women to go beyond Athiramala, a base station in Agasthyakoodam, will interfere with their traditional rights of worship. Thus, they challenged the guidelines of the Department on extending permission to women for the trek.
While the state Forest Department states that women were not allowed to trek the peak due to the difficult terrain, the Kani community has been opposed to women’s entry, contending that it would infringe upon their traditional rights of worship.
Mohanan Triveni, president of Agasthyakoodam Kshetra Kanikkar Trust, said that for generations only men from Kani tribe have visited the peak. “We, Kani people, worship Agastya Muni. Our women have never gone to the peak in tune with our tradition and faith, but we will go by the High Court’s order,’’ he said.
The Forest Department has stated that only physically and mentally fit people should apply for the 25.5-km trek, which takes two to three days. The department’s guidelines state that only women above the age of 14 should apply.