Ex-Union minister says he went to Shani 'chauthara' with wife

Amid a high-voltage stir against gender bias at Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, former Union minister Balasaheb Vikhe Patil today claimed he had visited the 'chauthara' (platform) at the temple along with his wife.

Vikhe Patil's comments came on a day when the Ahmednagar district administration said it had invited the protesters and the shrine authorities to discuss the centuries-old ban on female devotees entering the sacred platform.

"Women should be freely allowed to go to the chauthara. I have welcomed (Maharashtra) Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' statement that women should be allowed (to offer prayers). In fact, when I got married, I went to the 'chauthara' with my wife and father," Vikhe Patil told reporters at Shirdi.

"All aged people know this. They have taken their daughters and daughters-in-law along with them (to the chauthara). Now, something new has come which is not right.

Actually, this dispute is wrong," he said.

On January 26, at least 400 women volunteers, mainly hailing from Pune, led by Trupti Desai of Bhumata Brigade made an unsuccessful attempt to storm the 'chauthara' of the temple when police stopped the marchers at Supa village, 70 km from the shrine.

The marchers were detained there for a few hours before being released and sent back to Pune on buses.

The women protested against the police action and raised slogans. They had even laid down on the road, crying "it is a black day for women on Republic Day".

As a showdown erupted, Fadnavis had favoured a dialogue between temple authorities and activists to find a way out over the ban on entry of women into the inner sanctum of the shrine, maintaining that women have a right to pray.

"Indian culture and Hindu religion gives women the right to pray. A change in yesterday's traditions is our culture. Discrimination in praying is not in our culture. The temple authorities should resolve the issue through dialogue," he had said.

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