The police Tuesday foiled the plan of activists to “storm” the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district to break the centuries-old tradition that bars women from entering the temple sanctum.
Stopping the volunteers of Bhumata Brigade in Supa, about 70 km from the Shani temple, the police detained them towards evening. They were released soon.
Villagers of Shani Shingnapur, who had prepared themselves for a confrontation with the activists, celebrated the detention of the organisation’s leader, Trupti Desai, and other activists by bursting firecrackers. “We are happy that there was no standoff. We hope this action will resolve the issue once and for all,” said Shalini Lande, one of the temple trustees.
Specifying that all protesters were released, Additional SP, Ahmednagar, Pankaj Deshmukh said, “A notice has been issued but no arrests were made.”
Earlier in the day, nearly 500 women and men left Pune in buses and cars to “storm” the temple if the police thwarted their plans to offer prayers to the deity at the sanctum, as Desai had said Monday.
Many women travelled from Kolhapur, Latur, Nashik and other parts of the state. Desai had claimed that more than 1,500 women would join the march to demand equal right for women and men at the temple. The number on the ground appeared approximately a third of that.
According to temple authorities, the chauthara (platform) where the idol is installed has been closed for both women and men for the past five years. However, men who donate a particular sum to the temple trust in the name of the deity are allowed entry. Desai had said the women would pay the amount to gain access, but the temple authorities turned down the offer.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that the police stopped us by using force. We are not doing anything wrong, as everyone, irrespective of gender, should have equal right to enter the sanctum,” Desai told the media.
With Desai emphasising that they would not budge, many activists squatted and lay down on the highway at Supa and refused to move. The activists also called it a “black day” for women and Indian democracy on Republic Day.
Deshmukh said the police decided to stop the march in view of a suspected threat to the law and order situation. “There could have been confrontation between the protesters and the temple authorities had they reached the village. We have opened an alternative route for traffic,” he said.
Post-release, Desai said she would visit Ranjangaon Ganesh temple near Pune to pray for a “change of mind” of the officials.