Maharashtra's Shani Shingnapur temple on Friday threw open its doors to women, ending a centuries-old ban that had been challenged in courts by various activists and inspired a high-voltage campaign.The decision came after the Maharashtra government where the Shani Shingnapur temple is located informed a Mumbai court last week that it would proactively enforce a 1956 law that authorises entry for all Hindus to any Hindu place of public worship in the state.
“We will do as the law says," said Sanjay Bankar, manager of the temple devoted to the planet Saturn. Shani Shingnapur temple in a village in the district of Ahmednagar was the focus of national attention in January when authorities stopped a group of mainly women activists from marching toward the temple to worship inside the shrine's open-air platform.
Until Friday, the temple authorities had asserted that while both men and women were allowed inside the premises, it was duty-bound to protect a centuries-old tradition that only male priests could enter the inner part of the temple, the sanctum sanctorum.
Trupti Desai, a woman activist who had led the January march, said that she planned to worship at the temple along with more than a dozen other women on Friday evening. “It's the triumph of female power," Desai said. “We will continue our fight to end discrimination against women at all other places of worship," she said. Instances of prohibition on women entering some public religious places have gained national traction in recent years.
They include the Hindu Sabarimala temple in southern India that bars women of menstruating age to enter its premises; and Mumbai's popular Haji Ali Dargah that forbids women to enter its sanctum sanctorum. Activists have petitioned courts to force religious authorities to stop such discrimination.
Key developments:- 1. Women will "neither be encouraged nor stopped" from entering, a trustee of the temple, Shalini Lande, said after a meeting.
2. Earlier, over 100 men had forced their way into the inner sanctum of the temple dedicated to Shani (Saturn) to mark "Gudi Padwa" - the New Year by the Hindu
3. Welcoming the end of ban on women, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had backed the court order, said: ""If we have to progress in this 21st century then it is important that we remove this concept of discrimination of caste and gender from the minds of the people completely."
4. Last week, the temple said neither men nor women would be allowed into the area that has an idol placed on an outdoor platform.
5. The new restrictions were introduced to circumvent a court ruling that women and men must have equal access to Hindu places of worship.