Thiruvananthapuram: Women will soon begin trekking Agasthyarkoodam, the second highest peak in Kerala, at Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary here after the state forest department lifted a long-standing ban following a high court order.
The Kani tribe has claimed that they have been traditionally worshipping the idol of Agasthya Muni atop the hill and it was customary for women not to go near the idol. The peak has been named after the mythical Hindu sage Agasthya.
The Kerala High Court had on November 30 last year ruled that no gender-based restrictions can be imposed on those who intend to trek Agasthyarkoodam, and lifted the unofficial ban on the entry of women to the 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," the high court had observed.
The government had told the high court that no one had any vested right to trek to Agasthyarkoodam, which was a reserve forest and a UNESCO heritage site owing to its ecological diversity.
It was further said that members of Kani tribe had no customary right of worship in the area as there was no temple there.
The forest department permits a limited supervised trek to the 1,868-metre peak for registered persons every year.
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.
In 2015, a women's group noticed that forest officials had promulgated a notification excluding women and children below the age of 14 from making the two-day hike that included an overnight stay in a base camp at Athirumala.
'Pennoruma'', an organisation headed by M Sulfath, and 'Anweshi', led by former Naxalite leader K Ajitha, joined the Women Integration and Growth Through Sports, another organisation, and moved court to fight against the gender bias.
Forest Minister K Raju had earlier told media that women were welcome but separate facilities for them were not possible owing to restrictions imposed in the ecologically sensitive zone.
The issue of women's visit to the hill might trigger fresh controversy in Kerala, which has been under the grip of violence since the entry of two women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple following a Supreme Court verdict. PTI