Shani temple trust allows women to enter inner sanctum
Shani Shingnapur temple trust allowed for women to enter the inner sanctum to offer prayers. After Bombay HC's order that stated that if men could pray in the temple then women should be allowed too, the temple trust had forbidden the entry of men too. After men forcefully entered and offered prayers on the occasion of Gudi Padwa, the trust allowed women's entry too.
An unknown woman climbed the security barrier to the platform of the famous Lord Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district, where the Shani idol is placed. She then offered prayers before she disappeared into the crowd. The irate villagers went on to observe a bandh for many hours to denounce the entry of the unidentified woman in the chouthara (sanctum sanctorum).
Authorities at the Shani temple conducted a 'purification puja' considering the temple desecrated after the young woman performed puja. Officials at the Shani Shingnapur temple also dismissed 7 workers for "negligence" while 1 trustee left after taking moral responsibility for the incident. Priests washed the idol with "oil and milk", while all stores in the area remained shut till the ritual was over.
The Andhshradha Nirmulan Samiti (ANS) came out in support of the woman performing puja. They said their founder Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was the first one to have spoken out against this discriminatory tradition. They further said that the episode had transpired ironically on Mahatma Phule Jayanti Day, whose wife had "started the fight for equal rights for women, about 200 years ago."
Maharashtra Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde defended the custom of not permitting women to perform Shani Shingnapur temple puja in Ahmednagar district. She said traditional rites cannot be "linked with insult" of women, further stating that "the outrage over the woman entering the Shani temple is a non-issue." Her comments come as a woman tried to be a part of the temple's puja.
Dr Narendra Dabholkar's daughter, Mukta who is a member of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) said Pankaja Munde's statement was regressive and did not reflect her thinking. She also said "as a BJP minister, she is under some political compulsions." Chitra Wagh, from Nationalist Congress Party, also said, "instead of appreciating a move to break traditions against women, Munde has taken us back".
Mukta Dabholkar said that Munde who stood in defence of 'traditions' had offered fire to her father's pyre defying the Hindu tradition where a son lights his father's pyre and hence her current stand was contradictory.
Anita Shete became the first woman to be appointed as the President of the Shani Shingnapur Temple in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district. In a first, another woman formed a part of the 11-member trustee board of the temple. However, this gesture is more symbolic as Shete won't aim to demolish the existing gender barriers to allow women to perform Shani-pooja in the central compound.
Around 400 women from Pune said they would barge in and offer prayers at Shani Shingnapur temple to break the unequal tradition. The temple administration has revved up security personnel through the village to stop activists of the Bhumata brigade, who are spearheading the movement, from accessing the inner sanctum. The women said they would descend from helicopter if need be.
Maharashtra CM Fadnavis finally broke his silence, speaking in favor of women being allowed to offer prayers at Shani temple. He said that women have the right to pray, and said that authorities of Shani Shingnapur temple and activists should hold a discussion to arrive at an amicable solution over the row. He further said: "discrimination in praying is not in our culture."
The Bombay HC asked the Maharashtra government to ensure that the law to prevent discrimination against women was upheld in the Shani temple row saying "it is the fundamental right of a woman" to enter a place of worship. The government assured that it was against gender discrimination. The HC was told that the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship Act would be upheld.
The villagers from the Shani Shinganpur area in Maharashtra stopped many women who tried to enter the inner compound of the Shani-temple. Trupti Desai who led the women said she would file an FIR against the CM of Maharashtra. She said that the government had failed to comply with Bombay HC's order that called the entry of women to temples their fundamental right.