THE Bombay High Court Wednesday asked Maharashtra government to ensure that women are not denied entry to any temple.
Hearing a PIL challenging the prohibition on women’s entry to the shrine area at Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district, the division bench of Chief Justice D H Waghela and Justice M S Sonak said: “You have to ensure their access. Provisions in law already allow this. Nothing prevents women from entering. Police and collector will have to act against those preventing their entry.” It added that if men were granted entry to a place of worship, women should enjoy access too.
Women are not allowed to climb the platform of Shani Shingnapur temple on which the rock idol of Shani is installed. Senior advocate Neelima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal have filed a PIL in the high court, arguing that such prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of fundamental rights of citizens. They have sought implementation of the Maharashtra Hindu Places of Public Worship (entry Authorisation) Act, 1956. The Act says, “no Hindu of whatsoever section or class shall in any manner be prevented, obstructed or discouraged from entering such place of public worship or from worshipping or offering prayers, or performing a religious service…”. As per the Act, prohibiting any person from entering a temple would attract six months in jail.
Referring to the Act, the court said: “It is your own law, you are obliged to uphold it.”
Kalyani Tulankar, appearing for the petitioners, informed the court that one of the petitioners was prevented from climbing the platform when she recently visited the temple. “The petitioner also learnt that for the purpose of justifying this discrimination, the entry of men had also been disallowed. Although this had been done outwardly for the purpose of achieving this so-called equality, the real purpose of imposing the ban was under no circumstance to allow the women to have a darshan of the deity from the open side,” said Tulankar.
When Abhinandan Vagyani, representing the government, sought time to reply, the court said this meant the violation would continue. The bench finally agreed to give the government time till April 1 to file its reply.
As per a 400-year-old tradition, women were not allowed to enter the Shani temple. After mass awareness campaigns, their entry was allowed in 2011, but they were prohibited from climbing the shrine platform.
On January 26, women activists who resolved to climb the platform and offer prayers were detained at Supa village, about 70 km from the temple, and later released.