If Men Are Allowed in Temples, Allow Women Too: Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court challenged the prevention of women’s entry in the sanctum sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur temple.

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The Shani Shingnapur Temple. (Photo: <a href="http://shanishinganapur.com/">shanishinganapur.com</a>)

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday said that if men are allowed in a place of worship then women should also be permitted as no law prevents them from doing so.

The high court while underlining the need for giving equal access to women also stated that any temple or person imposing restrictions will face a six-month jail term under a Maharashtra law, and asked the government to make a statement if it is worried about the sanctity of a deity.

The observations were made by a division bench of Chief Justice DH Waghela and Justice MS Sonak during the hearing of a PIL by senior advocate Nilima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal. They challenged the prevention of women’s entry in the sanctum sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.

There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place. If you allow men then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity then why not women? It is the state government’s duty to protect the rights of women.
Justice Waghela

Under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, if any temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple then he or she faces a six-month imprisonment,” the court said.

The court also said that the government should give wide publicity to the Act and issue circulars, informing the general public at large about the Act and its provisions.

The court directed government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani to take instructions and make a statement on 1 April, on whether or not it will ensure that women will be allowed to enter the temple.

The petition seeks the entry of women not just into the temple but also inside its sanctum sanctorum.

The petition says that the prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of fundamental rights of citizens.

The debate over the issue 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 Trupti Desai had on 26 January launched a high-voltage campaign to lift the ban at the temple and vowed to carry on with its movement for gender justice.

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