Thiruvananthapuram: Lakhs of women, with many in burqas worn only by Muslims and several known faces from the CPI(M), stood shoulder-to-shoulder across the national highways in Kerala, creating a 620 km-long human ‘wall’ from the northern end of Kasaragod to the southern tip here on Tuesday as part of a state-sponsored initiative to uphold gender equality.

The sight of burqa-clad women in the human chain has been a talking point on social media since yesterday.

While Health minister KK Shylaja led the chain at Kasargod, senior CPM leader Brinda Karat was the last person at the end of the chain in Thiruvananthapuram.

Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran had told reporters on Tuesday that government employees would also be participating in the Women’s Wall. “Government employees will also be taking part in the initiative. All arrangements are in place in order to avoid traffic snarls in the State,” Surendran had said.

The event comes days after thousands of devotees lit ‘Ayyappa Jyothi’ (lighting of sacred lamps) and lined up from Hosangadi in Kasargod to Kanyakumari, vowing to protect the age-old customs and traditions of Sabarimala.

On Tuesday, women from various walks of life — writers, athletes, actors, politicians and techies, government officials and homemakers — stood across the highways crisscrossing through the 14 districts in the state as the event commenced at 4 PM.

Expressing solidarity, thousands of men also lined up parallel forming a second human ‘wall’.

The ‘Women’s wall’ was conceived in the backdrop of frenzied protests witnessed in the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala after the CPI(M)-led LDF government decided to implement the Supreme Court verdict, allowing all women to pray at the Ayyappa shrine.

The event is part of an initiative to protect “secular” values, “gender equality” and to spread a message against those trying to push society into the “dark ages”, organisers of the programme said.

Before the formal start of the event, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan garlanded the statue of social reformer ‘Ayyankali’.

CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat and CPI leader Annie Raja paid floral tributes at the statue.

Vijayan had earlier expressed confidence that women, cutting across lines of caste and religion, would join the ‘wall’ to save Kerala from being “dragged back into the era of darkness.” 

CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had earlier said that 50 lakh women were expected to take part in the event.

The state’s weight thrown behind the event was clearly visible as school students were given a half-day holiday, while universities postponed exams scheduled for Tuesday.

The government employees and Technopark employees were allegedly asked to take part in the event, which the main opposition Congress-led UDF dubbed “caste wall” and “wall of contradictions”.
The participants began lining up at the designated centres since 3 PM. A rehearsal was also held.

The ‘wall’ was formed at 4 PM, with participants taking a pledge to uphold gender equality and renaissance values.

The campaign was suggested at a meeting called by the LDF government following massive protests by right-wing parties and a section of devotees over the government’s decision to implement the 28 September apex court order, allowing women of all ages to offer prayers at Sabarimala.