Tradition trumps court, locals keep women out of Shani temple

  • Satyajit Joshi, Hindustan Times, Pune
  • Updated: Apr 03, 2016 00:04 IST
Hundreds of women have been staging a protest at the Shani temple in Maharashtra, with their leader Trupti Desai calling the ban ’a symbol of gender inequality’ which could not be tolerated in the 21st century. (Dhanesh Katariya/HT)

A group of women activists were prevented on Saturday from entering a temple in Maharashtra traditionally open only to men, a day after the Bombay high court ruled that women have a fundamental right to enter and pray inside temples.

The women entered the Shani Shingnapur temple compound but hundreds of villagers -- both male and female -- who believe in the centuries-old tradition of barring women from entering the inner sanctorum formed a human wall, forcing the activists to retreat.

The temple, located in Maharashtra state, has become the focus of a protest by female activists who say they’re fighting a centuries-old tradition of barring women from worshipping at some Hindu temples.

But their failure on Saturday, despite a court backing and government assurances, underscored the challenge in breaking down gender biases in a deeply conservative country.

The women had made a similar attempt to enter the Shani Shingnapur temple in January, but were stopped by police some distance away after protests were staged by temple priests and local villagers, mostly men.

On Saturday, police moved the women to a safe place after angry villagers barricaded the temple and said they would attack anyone who tried to forcibly enter the main shrine.

Police faced a tough time controlling the angry mob, which shouted slogans against what it said was publicity stunt by the women activists. The crowd chanted “Shani Maharaj Ki Jay” when activists were taken to police vehicles.

“This is a murder of democracy. Police should have allowed us to enter the sanctum with protection,” said Trupti Desai, who led the women activists.

“If (Maharashtra) chief minister Devendra Fadnavis does not order police to allow us to worship at the Shani platform inside the temple in keeping with the HC order, I will file an FIR against him for violating it (the ruling),” she said.

Desai’s group, called the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, planned the march to the temple after the Bombay high court said women have a fundamental right to enter temples. The state government assured it was totally opposed to gender discrimination and it would implement a 1956 law which stipulated six months jail for violators.

Some Hindu temples in the country ban women from entering the inner sanctum, with Kerala’s famous Sabarimala temple barring all female worshippers aged between 10 and 50 years.

The Shani Shingnapur temple is dedicated to Lord Shani, who personifies the planet Saturn in Hindu belief. Women devotees are not permitted on the platform as per 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.

The temple trustees said they would continue with the 400-year-old tradition of barring women. --

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