Temple Run: HC gives women the right to pray

Government asked to ensure women are allowed to enter temples, and that this right is protected

Women can no longer be barred from entering temples in Maharashtra with the Bombay High Court yesterday holding that it is their fundamental right to go into places of worship, and the government’s duty to protect it.

The Bombay High Court bench told the government to issue orders to district collectors and superintendents to follow the law. File pic
The Bombay High Court bench told the government to issue orders to district collectors and superintendents to follow the law. File pic

Chief Justice D H Waghela and Justice M S Sonak were hearing a PIL filed by Pune-based women Vidya Bal and Nilima Vartak that challenged the entry of women in temples like Shani Shingnapur and Kartikeya temple in Pune.

“Freedom of religion is guaranteed by article 15 and 25 of the Constitution of India, and Maharashtra Hindu Places of Public Worship (entry authorisation) Act 1956 allows people of all ages without any gender biases to enter a temple,” said advocate Kalyani Tulankar, who represented the petitioners.

Advocate General of the State, Rohit Deo told the bench that the state was not in favour of any discrimination, in age or gender and it was ready to enforce the law as per the article.

Deo also told the bench that if the temples did not allow men in the sanctum sanctorum they will not allow women as well. “You don’t preempt anything, you should enforce the law and see to it that it is enforced. Issue orders to District Collectors and Superintendents to follow the law and see that fundamental rights of women are protected,” said Chief Justice Waghela.

“The Maharashtra government shall take all necessary steps to implement the Act. Ultimately it is the fundamental right of a woman and your (government’s) fundamental duty to protect this right,” Chief Justice Waghela added.

The Shani Shingnapur Trust has stopped allowing men also to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Shanidev. “We will be challenging that also soon. This is the first victory for us and we are hopeful we will win more battles. The act is 60 years old and this is the first time it will be implemented,” said advocate Nilima Vartak.

Previous hearing
In the previous hearing on Wednesday the bench had said, “Instead of providing protection for enforcement of law, you are enforcing Section 144 of CrPC, prohibiting entry of women in temples. You have to protect them and make sure that they have equal rights, same as men to worship. If any trustee or pujari is creating a problem, you should make sure he is taken to task. You should make sure law and order is maintained. Issue circulars to all collectors and police officers about the entry of women in all Hindu shrines, except private ones,” observed the bench. “For entering a temple, they should not come to the High Court.”

— Inputs from Agencies

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