Exactly a year ago many in the country cheered the daring of Trupti Desai who led women activists from Maharashtra to make history by breaking a six-decade-old tradition and enter the sanctum of the Shani Shingnapur temple.
An important landmark in the movement for women’s emancipation in India, the incident triggered similar campaigns at other famous shrines in the country where women have been prohibited from going inside the sanctum sanctorum.
The campaign brought Shani Shingnapur into national focus and almost doubled the number of devotees visiting it.
A year later, not much has changed on the ground as the achievement of women activists is being reversed not by men but women from the temple town. Locals in Shani Shignapur are back with their age-old practice with women still staying away from the deity, a tradition they still consider should be followed by all.
“None of us from the district have climbed the platform and touched the deity. We don’t oppose any woman coming from outside and entering into the inner sanctum but why should we be forced to break the tradition,” asked Anita Shete, head of the Shani Temple Trust.
The locals believe women do not offer worship at the sanctum sanctorum owing to a belief about “harmful vibration emanating from Lord Shani”.
Shete, however, has relented a bit as last year after being elected the head of the trust she had made it clear that she would ensure the custom remains unbroken. “As head of the temple trust, I will fight till my last breath to defend the centuries-old tradition,” she had then said.
Unhappy about local women reluctant to enter the inner sanctum, activists say these women are under pressure from the local men who never wanted the tradition to be broken.
“It is true that local women are not entering the inner sanctum and going close to deity. But these women are under pressure from men who wants to retain the regressive practice,” Trupti Desai told Hindustan Times. Desai said she got calls from local women who claimed they were being prevented by members of their family not to break the tradition.
The local men refuted Desai’s charge of pressuring the women. “The women from entire district do not want to spoil the sanctity of the place. While we have not asked anyone to either go or not to go, local women prefer not to climb the platform,” said temple trustee GK Darandale.
Desai and other activists plan to visit the temple on April 8, when their crusade completes a year.
“We are aware that it’s a huge task to change the mindset of the people. On April 8, last year, we initiated the process to bring equality among men and women. This year, we will be visiting Shani Shingnapur to start another campaign against worsening sex ratio,” said Desai.
She said it would take years to change the society’s mindset.
Traditionally, women for years have been prohibited from climbing the platform where the idol is installed at the Shani Shingnapur temple. The activists led by Bhumata Brigade founder Trupti Desai campaigned against the issue, which led the temple trust to allow women entering into inner sanctum.
After Shani Shingnapur, Desai spearheaded a similar movement at Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik and Kolhapur’s Mahalaxmi temple where the trust authorities finally had to allow women to enter inside the sanctum sanctorum.
Initially, Desai and other activists including Vanita Gutte faced stiff opposition from the temple trustees of Trimbakeshwar and Kolhapur. However, the temple authorities eventually buckled under pressure of large support for the crusade. And unlike Shani Shingnapur, the local women at Trimbakeshwar and Kolhapur regularly visit the inner sanctum of the temple.
- November 27, 2015: A young woman climbed the platform and performed ‘abhishek’ to Lord Shani, sparking outrage among villagers and temple trustees. Later, the idol was "purified".
- November 28, 2016: The temple committee suspended seven security and observed a ‘bandh’ in the village to protest the incident.
- January 26, 2016: Activists led by Trupti Desai tried to break decades-old tradition that prohibited women from entering sanctum sanctorum of the presiding god Shani. They were stopped by police 70km away from the temple.
- March 30, 2016: Bombay high court asked Maharashtra government to ensure women are not denied entry. The HC while hearing a petition filed by Dabholkar’s associate Vidya Bal and Nilima Varta, ruled that entering temple is a fundamental right of women and that government is duty bound to protect this right.
- April 8, 2016: Temple trust finally allowed the entry of women into the sanctum.