No law prevents women from entering a place of worship and if men are allowed, then women too should be permitted, the Bombay High Court observed today while stating that any temple or person imposing such restriction can face a six month jail term under a Maharashtra law.
The observations were made by a division bench of Chief Justice D H Waghela nd Justice M S Sonak during the hearing of a public interest litigation by senior advocate Nilima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal, challenging the prohibition of entry of women in the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.
"There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place. If you allow men then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity then why not women? It is the state government's duty to protect the rights of women," Chief Justice Waghela said today.
"If it is the sanctity of the deity that you are worried about then let the government make such a statement. Under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, if any temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple then he or she faces a six-month imprisonment," the court said.
The court also said that the government should give wide publicity to the Act and issue circulars, informing the general public at large about the Act and its provisions.
The court directed government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani to take instructions and make a statement on Friday (April 1), on whether or not it will ensure that women will be allowed to enter the temple.
The petition seeks the entry of women not just into the temple, but also inside its sanctum sanctorum. The petition says that the prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of fundamental rights of citizens.