Women stopped from Shani Temple despite court order, scuffle at site

Ahmednagar (Maharashtra), April 2 (IANS) A day after the Bombay High Court ruled that no law prevented women’s entry into places of worship, women activists were assaulted and prevented by adamant villagers from praying at the sanctum sanctorum of the famous Shani Shingnapur Temple here on Saturday.

A tense atmosphere prevailed in the pilgrim-cum-tourist destination as Bhumata Ranragini Brigade president Trupti Desai and a band of around 200 women supporters entered the village and attempted to approach the temple precincts.

Hundreds of villagers, including around 300 women, formed human chains to prevent the activists from proceeding for ‘darshan’ at the Shani Temple in the centre of the village.

Complete chaos prevailed as Desai and her team reached the village and proceeded straight to the temple but were stopped in their tracks by villagers as well as police.

“This is a contempt of the Bombay High Court… the court had ordered that if women are stopped, the police must intervene and allow them to go to the sanctum sanctorum,” an agitated Desai told media persons.

The chaos degenerated into a free for all with the resolute activists being pushed around, roughed up and assaulted by the agitated villagers, and police virtually barricading the temple complex.

In the ensuing melee, in which some village and temple administrators reportedly joined in, Desai sustained minor injuries while a former NCP legislator Bhanudas Murkute was beaten up.

A determined Desai warned that if the women were stopped from going to pray right under the nose of police, she would lodge a complaint against the officials concerned.

“Why is police remaining silent? Was Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis lying when the assurance was made before the court? He should have issued the necessary orders as submitted to the court, why was it not done? Should we lodge a police complaint even against Fadnavis?” she asked.

Declaring that the BRB activists would not leave the village without praying in the open-to-sky sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur Temple, she squatted near the temple precincts along with her colleagues.

With the villagers turning more aggressive, the local police intervened and whisked Desai off to a waiting van and drove her to Pune amid loud protests.

Incidentally, earlier Saturday morning, Maharashtra Women’s Commission President Chitra Wagh suddenly cancelled her proposed symbolic trip to the temple, on grounds that she was requested by the temple administration, and as she did not want to create a law and order situation.

In a ruling with far-reaching implications, the Bombay High Court on Friday had declared that no law prevents women from entering places of worship and there should be no gender discrimination as far as entering a place of worship is concerned.

The verdict by a division bench of Chief Justice D.H. Waghela and Justice M. S. Sonak of Bombay High Court had come on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by activists Vidya Bal and senior lawyer Nilima Vartak.

Disposing off the PIL, the judges had directed the Maharashtra government to take proactive steps to ensure compliance with the laws, saying it is “the fundamental right of a woman” and must be protected.

The state government assured it was totally opposed to gender discrimination and it would scrupulously implement the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, which stipulated six months jail for violators.

Women devotees are not allowed to worship at this temple, dedicated to Lord Shanidev – the personification of planet Saturn.

Meanwhile, the Shani Mandir Bachao Committee, a local group in the village, has announced it will challenge the high court verdict in the Supreme Court.

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