AHMEDNAGAR: A day after Bombay High Court held that entry to temples was a fundamental right of women, scores of women activists today made a bid to storm the inner sanctum of Shani Shinganapur temple in Maharashtra to break the ban but they were stopped by scores of villagers.
Upset at her attempt being foiled, Trupti Desai, who led the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, said she would file an FIR against Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis if he fails to honour the Bombay High Court order facilitating entry of females to places of worship.
Vowing to intensify the campaign for gender justice after the tense faceoff, Desai said a police complaint would be also filed against those who prevented the activists from entering the core area of the shrine in Ahmednagar district.
The high court yesterday held that entry to temples was a fundamental right of women and it was the State's fundamental duty to protect it. On reaching the temple, Desai and her followers tried to scale the sacred platform but members of the local resistance group and temple officials pushed them away.
The villagers had laid a siege around the sacred area to stop the activists from storming the site. Police then intervened, took the activists to a spot 100 metres away from the platform and threw a protective ring around them.
On being denied entry to the core area, Desai and her associates sat on a dharna protesting the failure of the authorities to uphold the court order. Pankaj Deshmukh, Additional SP, said law and order will be maintained at the temple premises and neighbouring areas.
Police had been deployed in strength by the district authorities fearing a show-down between the campaigners and the local resisters, who had gathered in large numbers around the temple premises. "If Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis does not order police to allow us to worship at the restricted Shani platform area inside the temple in keeping with the HC order, I will file an FIR against him for violating it (the ruling)", she told reporters.
Around 25 activists led by Desai proceeded to the temple this morning in 2-3 small vehicles from Pune. "After the High Court itself ruled in womens' favour, we are determined to reach the sacred chauthara(platform) of the temple and we are sure that police will not restrict us en route," Desai said before leaving Pune.
On being told that if a temple does not allow any person, irrespective of gender, inside the sanctum sanctorum, then this Act (Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act 1956) and its provisions will not be of any help, Desai said, "In case of Shani Shinganapur, the temple trust used to allow men at 'chauthara' and only after our agitation started, they had put restrictions on males. So we should not be restricted." Desai also urged the chief minister to issue directives to the local administration and police to cooperate with them to go inside the temple peacefully and allow them to worship Lord Shani, whose idol is placed at the 'chauthara'.
The shrine is dedicated to Lord Shani, who personifies the planet Saturn in Hindu belief. Women devotees are not permitted on the platform as per centuries-old tradition followed at the shrine, which has no walls or a roof.
A five-foot-high black stone stands on a sacred platform (prohibited area) and is worshipped as Lord Shani. Meanwhile, members of an action committee formed in the district to maintain the 400-year-old tradition at the temple is mulling to challenge the high court order in the Supreme Court.
"We will soon approach the apex court against the high court ruling as it is a matter of protecting the faith of devotees," said Sambhaji Dahatonde, a member of the action committee. After the agitation began, the temple management shunned the practice of special puja for men in the last two months. Now both men and women are offering prayers from an equal distance from the idol. As of now, only the priests are allowed on the sacred sanctum.
The debate over the issue of women's entry into the sanctum sanctorum of temples in Maharashtra escalated after a woman last year tried to enter and offer prayers at the Shani Shingnapur temple in 'breach' of the age-old practice of prohibiting entry of women.
This had prompted the temple committee to suspend seven security men and the villagers to perform "purification rituals". Subsequently, the Bhumata Brigade led by Desai had on January 26 launched a high-voltage campaign to breach the ban at the Shani temple and vowed to carry on with its movement for gender justice.
Besides, around 150 women under the banner of outfit had last month headed to the famous Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik district seeking to break the bar on female devotees at the inner sanctum of the Lord Shiva shrine. Their attempts were, however, foiled by the police.