The Bombay high court on Wednesday rapped the state government for failing to protect the rights of women to worship. It sought a statement from the government saying authorities will ensure women are not prevented from offering prayers from any place of worship across Maharashtra.
“You must be conscious of your responsibility of protecting women wherever they go for worshipping,” the division bench of Chief Justice DH Waghela and justice MS Sonak told government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani while hearing a public interest litigation raising concern over discriminatory treatment meted out to women at the shrine of Lord Shani at Shingnapur in Ahmednagar district.
“If women are prevented from entering any place of worship, the collector and the police will have to take action for contravention of section 3 (of the Maharashtra Hindu Places of Worship (Entry of Authorisation) Act, 1956),” the judges said.
According to the petitioners, Pune-based activists Vidya Bal and Neelima Vartak, the shrine of Lord Shani at Shingnapur is established on an open platform on which men are allowed to offer prayers, but not women. Their PIL states that when the issue was taken up by Trupti Desai of Bhumata Brigade from Kolhapur, she was prevented from entering the shrine. The authorities, instead of helping the agitating women to enter the shrine and offer prayers, imposed section 144, prohibiting their entry into the town on the ground that their presence creates law and order problem.
Their counsel, advocate Kalyani Tulankar pointed out that after the incident, Shingnapur Devasthan Trust, has banned entry of men also on the platform, but this act of achieving so-called equality has come as a measure to ensure women’s entry on the platform in any circumstances.
Vagyani responded to the allegation saying there was no restriction on women for taking “darshan” of Lord Shani. The response irked the judges, who insisted that the state must protect rights of women, and the authorities cannot shirk responsibility of implementing the legislation made by the state itself. “It is your own law, you are obliged to enforce it,” said Justice Sonak referring to provisions of the Maharashtra Hindu Places of Worship (Entry of Authorisation) Act, 1956, which makes the imposition of restriction on any Hindu person in any Hindu religious shrine.
The judges said that the collector and the police must take action against the concerned persons, if anyone tries to prevent women from entering a shrine. “He may be a trustee (of the temple trust), pujari, ordinary person or a fanatic,” they added and asked the government pleader to make a statement to the effect that the authorities will protect rights of women and take action wherever they are prevented from entering a place of worship across the state, and a circular will be issued to all revenue and police authorities for enforcement of provisions of the Maharashtra Hindu Places of Worship (Entry of Authorisation) Act, 1956.
The bench has now posted the PIL for further hearing on Friday after Vagyani sought time to make the statement.