26/01/2016 12:07 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Women Trying To Enter Temple In Maharashtra Stopped By Police

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RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN - NOVEMBER 13: Indian women attend a ceremony at a temple during Diwali festival to mark the event in Rawalpindi, India, on 10 November 2015. The Diwali festival of lights symbolizes the victory of good over evil, commemorating Lord Ram's return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile. (Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- Packing a punch for freedom on India's 67th Republic Day, hundreds of women tried to enter the inner shrine of a temple in Maharashtra, which has always excluded them.

Despite prohibitory orders to gather around the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district, and resistance from local villagers, the Pune-based Bhumata Ranragini Brigade called on women across the state to converge at the temple on Tuesday afternoon.

More than 500 women left Pune for the Shani temple in buses today morning, but they were stopped by the police on the highway near Supa village, more than 50 kilometers before they could reach the site.

In the midst of a scuffle between the Brigade and the authorities, several women lay down on the road in protest. Some of them were also detained, ANI reported.

"This is a black day," Trupti Desai, who is leading the agitation, told the media.

The temple authorities have flatly refused to let the women enter the spot where the idol of Lord Shani is placed. 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.

"Tell us why we can't enter the temple. Is this a ego-clash," another Brigade member told the media, refusing to turn back even though the police had blocked their path.

Temple authorities have not been able to provide a specific reason for keeping women out of the sanctum sanctorum. Some trustees have said that men and women are both banned from the platform because they want to keep the area around the idol clean, and they don't want devotees to hurt themselves trying to reach the platform which can get sticky.

Observers have pointed out that no ban on male devotees exists in principle, but the exclusion of women is absolute. Men, however, can pray near the idol after paying a certain sum of money.

Women versus Women

In a move to counter criticism about gender bias, the Shani Shingnapur Temple Trust recently appointed its first woman president. 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.

Besides the temple authorities, women from local villages as well as Hindutva outfits are among the strongest objectors to the entry of the women in the shrine's sanctum sanctorum.

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