The Bombay High Court sent out a clear message on Wednesday, stating that women should be permitted to enter a place of worship if men are allowed to do the same. Any temple or person found flouting the law would have to face the music and serve a six-month imprisonment sentence under a law in Maharashtra.
The statements were issued during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by senior advocate Neelima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal that seeks to challenge the prohibition of admittance of women in the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. The division bench comprised of Chief Justice D H Waghela and Justice M S Sonak.
The temple is located in the Shingnapur village of Ahmednagar and is very popular among tourists from India as well as abroad. Its USP is that it has no walls or roof and is unique with a self-emerged (svayambhu) five-foot high black stone which is worshipped as Lord Shanidev.
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Photo source: shanishingnapur.blogspot.in
According to a temple trustee, Prafull N Surpuriya, no one can climb the nine steps up to the stone idol that is representative of the deity and everyone must pray from below the platform. However, according to a report by the Indian Express, men who donate a certain amount of money are granted access to the platform. Women, on the other hand, are not even granted this.
Chief Justice Waghela, however, made the law clear on the issue on Wednesday. “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 a woman? It is the state government’s duty to protect the rights of women,” he said.
The PIL seeks the implementation of the Maharashtra Hindu Places of Public Worship (entry Authorisation) Act, 1956. According to the Act, “no Hindu of whatsoever section or class shall in any manner be prevented, obstructed or discouraged from entering such place of public worship or from worshipping or offering prayers, or performing a religious service…”
The court has asked the government to file its reply by April 1 and also promote the widespread distribution of circulars in a bid to educate people about the Act and its provisions.