HC reserves order on plea against women's entry into temples

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday reserved its ruling on maintainability of a petition seeking recall of its order holding that it is the women's fundamental right to enter any place of worship, including the famous Shani shrine at Shingnapur in Maharashtra.

Sunita Pal, a Thane-based activist, has moved the court seeking recall of its April 1 order. The division bench headed by Chief Justice D H Waghela had asked the petitioner and the state government to argue on the maintainability of the petition first. The arguments concluded today and the bench reserved its order.

On April 1, a division bench headed by Justice Waghela held that women have the fundamental right to enter any place of worship where men are allowed and it was government's duty to ensure that this right is protected.

The court also cited Maharashtra Hindu Places of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, and ordered its strict implementation. The HC was hearing a public interest litigation filed by senior advocate Nilima Vartak and social activist Vidya Bal challenging the ban on entry of women at Shingnapur and some other temples in Maharashtra.

Pal's lawyer, advocate Subhash Jha, argued that the court misinterpreted the law; the 1956 Act was not about gender-based discrimination.

"The Act was framed post-Independence for Dalits so that there is no discrimination against them. If gender discrimination was the issue...then the legislation would have specifically mentioned `women' in the Act," Jha argued. Government has argued that it was not gender-biased and it wanted to implement the 1956 Act which provides for women's right to enter the places of worship.

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