Dhanya Sanal, spokesperson for the defence ministry in Thiruvananthapuram, is the first woman to trek to Kerala’s Agasthyarkoodam peak since the Kerala High Court order in 2018, PTI reported on Monday. The annual season for the trek began on 14 January and will go on till 1 March.
The high court had in November 2018 allowed women to trek to the 1,868-metre high peak inside Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, saying it was a fundamental right they could not be denied.
Unhappy with the order, the Kani tribe, which lives in the foothills of Agasthyarkoodam, held protests at the base camp in Bonacaud.
Dhanya was the only woman in the first batch of 100 trekkers who set out to scale the peak, known for its panoramic beauty and unique biodiversity.
“The journey is to understand the forest more and share the unique experience with others,” she told PTI before starting the journey.
As she trekked to the peak, Sanal told ANI, “I’ll stick to take the pathway and not go into prohibited areas and hurt the sentiments of the tribals.”
The Forest Department had asked trekkers to reach the pick-up station near Bonacaud by 7 am, following which they were divided into five groups of 20 members each. The first group commenced their trek at around 8.30 am. Women guards have been deployed to ensure the safety of trekkers, The Hindu reported.
Before the high court order, women were not allowed beyond the base camp in Athirimala, 6 km below the peak.
The Kani tribe believes the presence of women at the peak will affect the celibacy of the Hindu sage Agasthya, whose abode it is believed to be.
Over 100 indigenous people, including women, gathered at Bonacaud, the pick-up station, and sang folk songs as a mark of protest. “We staged the protest to express our pain and anguish at breaking the customs of the Agastya hills. We never attempted to check the trekkers...because we respect the court order,” Mohanan Triveni, state president, Adivasi Mahasabha told PTI.
Agasthyarkoodam is a reserve forest and a UNESCO heritage site. More women are expected to trek the peak in the coming days.
(With PTI inputs)