NEW DELHI -- Following months of activism and litigation, the Shani Shinganapur temple in Maharashtra revoked its ban against the entry of women into its inner sanctum on Friday.
"This is a huge victory," said Trupti Desai, head of the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, who led months of protests against the discriminatory tradition of the Shani temple in Ahmednagar.
"We have always said that this was a fight for gender equality," Desai told Times Now shortly after the ban was lifted today.
Women started offering prayers at the Shani Shinganapur temple on Friday afternoon. While this is no doubt a historic stand against gender discrimination in India, there are still quite a few temples which don't allow women to enter.
Last week, the Bombay High Court said that if men can enter the temple so can women, and it was the state's duty to protect the rights of women. "There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place," said Chief Justice D.H. Waghela.
The Bombay High Court also said that any temple or person imposing such restriction can face a six month jail term under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorization) Act, 1956, and asked the state government to publicize this law.
Following the High Court order, the temple decided to ban the entry of men and women into its inner sanctum. Earlier today, at least 100 men tried to force their way into temple, forcing temple officials to open its door to everyone.
Desai previously said that if a single man enters the inner sanctum with the exception of the pujari, then the temple officials would stand in contravention of the High Court order if they barred women from entering.
Over the past several months, women tried to enter the inner shrine of the Shani temple several times, but their efforts were thwarted by temple officials, the police which cited law and order concerns, and the locals who were opposed to breaking tradition.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has advocated change. "A change in tradition in accordance with the times is our culture. Discrimination in worshipping is not our culture," he tweeted in January.
Temple authorities did not provide a specific reason for keeping women out of the sanctum sanctorum. Some trustees said that both men and women were banned from the platform because they wanted to keep the area around the idol clean, and they did not want devotees to hurt themselves trying to reach the platform which gets sticky.
In a move to counter criticism about gender bias, the Shani Shingnapur Temple Trust appointed its first woman president in January. Instead of breaking with tradition, the new president, Anita Shete, has said that she intends to maintain the ban on women from entering the area where the idol of Lord Shani is kept.
In November, it was widely reported that a purification ritual was carried after one woman managed reach the platform where the idol is kept, but trustees of the temple denied taking such a step.
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