Activists slam Shani temple tradition banning women's entry

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Mumbai, Nov 30: Women activists on Monday slammed the tradition of prohibiting entry to the fairer sex at a famous Shani shrine in Ahmednagar district and the "purification rituals" which were performed by villagers after a woman recently entered there.

On Saturday, the age-old practice of prohibiting women from offering prayers at the shrine located in Shani Shingnapur village was "breached" when a woman climbed the security barricade to the 'chauthara' (platform) where the idol is installed and offered prayers, before disappearing in the crowd.

Shani Temple

Yesterday, the villagers had performed a 'dudh abhishek' (milk purification) of the idol and observed a 'bandh' in the morning to protest the incident.

Startled, the temple committee also swung into action today and suspended seven security personnel.

Terming the incident as "ridiculous", Maharashtra's former Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Chandra Iyengar said, "God has created everyone equal and who are we to force anyone to follow specific process of offering devotion or faith. At least God never said so that a woman, even if she is menstruating, cannot enter a temple."

She said that since religious faith of a person is a specific and a crucial issue, hence government cannot interfere in such cases as it has to follow the law of the land (administration of the religious places).

However, if these rules are made by human beings only, then it is time to rethink them, the former bureaucrat said.

"It is my firm belief that God has not provisioned such discrimination...we should not forget that there are ample number of women who also support such belief (of prohibiting women from entering temples)," she said.

Notably, a huge controversy had broken out in 2006 after Kannada actress Jayamala claimed to have entered the Sabarimala temple in Kerala during her prime and touched the idol of the presiding deity, claiming that she was pushed into the sanctum sanctorum by the surging crowd.

Slamming such practices, human rights activist and former bureaucrat Abha Singh said the trustees or governing bodies are exercising their power as if they are "extra constitutional authorities" like Khaps.

"These prohibitions are serious violation of Articles 14 and 15 of our Constitution which provide every citizen the right to equality and rules out any discrimination on the basis of religion and gender," she said.

"Such outdated religious bigotism should be done away with as soon as possible and government must encourage such women who want to do so (pray at such temples) without having any malice or vendetta," she said.

Taking potshopts at the temple management, National Commission for Women's (NCW) former member Nirmala Samant Prabhawalkar said, "Only experts on religious issues could have decided whether the temple became impure by the entry of a woman or not, and surely not by these people. They are just caretakers of the temple."

These rules (of denying women's entry into the temple) were made 400 to 500 years back and now society sees women as equal to men, she said.

Taking umbrage to the purification rituals performed by the villagers, Prabhawalkar said, "I am also a trustee of Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai. I know how to manage the day-to-day affairs of the temple where people throng with lots of hope and faith. So in this case, administration should have exercised some restraint while declaring temple as impure."

"Hence, I feel that performing purification rituals by milk was unwarranted and I vehemently oppose such a move," she added.

PTI

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