Indian woman becomes first to climb male-only mountain

Dhanya Sanal posted this video of her ascent of mount Agasthyakoodam in the Western Ghats range, in India's Kerala state. She became the first Indian woman to climb the sacred mountain, after a court lifted a ban that prohibited women from scaling the peak.

Delhi, India (CNN)A woman in southern India has become the first to climb a sacred mountain after a court lifted a local custom that prohibited females from scaling the peak.

The feat comes amid a fractious national debate about gender restrictions, religion and the limits of the law in India that has flared into deadly street violence.
Dhanya Sanal reached the summit of the 1,868 meter-high (6,128 feet) Agasthyakoodam in southern Kerala state on Tuesday, following the High Court ruling in November.
    Local people belonging to the Kani, a tribal Hindu community who inhabit the forests around the mountain, had opposed women climbing the peak for traditional customary reasons, though an official law was never in place.
      The 38-year-old, who is a spokesperson for the country's Defense Ministry, was the only woman trekker among a group of 100 to climb the peak on Tuesday, local media reported. Two women forest rangers also accompanied the group.
      More than 100 more women have registered for trekking licenses since the court's decision, with some already on the way to the peak.
      Sanal told the Times of India that the two day hike was on "extremely tough terrain that demands extra physical fitness."
        The UNESCO listed Agasthyakoodam, located in the Western Ghats range, is the second highest peak in Kerala state and is renowned for its wealth of biodiversity that includes 400 plants unique to the area.
        Speaking to CNN, Dr. V. Venu, Principal Secretary of the Kerala Forests and Wildlife Department said that the Kani tribe are traditional healers and the community has a long tradition of collecting herbs and preparing medicine.
        "They considered the rock phase of the peak as sacred and they used to go to obtain some very rare herbs," he said.
        This job was traditionally a role for men in the community, and it became convention that women were not allowed to trek past base camp (just below 1,000 meters), Venu added.
        The mountain, named after the Hindu sage Agasthya, is considered sacred to the Kani, and though Venu said it is not a traditional place of worship, a statue of the sage was placed on the mountain about 20 years ago.
        In court documents, members of the community objected to women climbing the mountain in the vicinity of the idol as it would "affect customs and traditions of the Kani tribe."
        Venu said that women have always been allowed to make the trek up to base camp but the Forestry Department didn't give permits to women to continue on to the summit out of respect for the Kani people.
        "There was no religious hard and fast rule," he said. "In the past we respected the sentiment of the tribes, that's all."
        The custom was challenged by two women's rights organizations, Women Integration and Growth through Sports (WINGS) and Anweshi.
        In its November judgment, the court ruled that both male and female trekkers would not be permitted "in the immediate vicinity of the idol" or to offer religious prayers.
        "There is no intention to violate or wound religious sentiments or the tribal rights of any person and the petitioners are only intending to participate in a trek without infringing any rights," it read.
        Sanal's climb comes amid deadly protests elsewhere in Kerala state after two women broke with centuries of conservative taboo and entered the Sabarimala Temple, one of Hinduism's holiest sites.
        In September, the Supreme Court overturned a ban prohibiting women of menstruating age -- or those aged between 10 to 50 -- from entering the site, ruling it unconstitutional.
          For months the area around the Sabarimala Temple complex has been the scene of angry clashes, as protesters attempted to prevent the court's decision from being enacted.
          Bindu Ammini, a 40-year-old law lecturer, and Kanakadurga, a 39-year-old local government employee, made history when they entered the temple earlier this month. At least one person was killed in ensuing street violence as anger over their act spilled onto the streets, forcing the women into hiding.