Agasthyarkoodam in Kerala is a reserve forest and a UNESCO heritage site.
Women will soon be able to trek to Agasthyarkoodam, the second highest peak in Kerala, after the state forest department lifted a long-standing ban following a high court order.
The peak is named after a mythical Hindu sage Agasthya. Kerala’s 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.
Last year, the Kerala High Court had 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 court had observed.
However, Kerala government had told the court that no one had a vested right to trek to Agasthyarkoodam, a reserve forest and a UNESCO heritage site.
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, some opposed their entry altogether.
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.