Trupti Desai, Shani temple authorities called for talks tomorrow

Pune: Leader of a women's organisation, that led a high-voltage stir against gender bias at Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar, and the shrine authorities have been called on Saturday by the district authorities to discuss the centuries-old ban on female devotees entering the sacred platform.

"We have received a letter from Ahmednagar District Collectorate in which they have asked us to be present on February 6 for discussions over the issue of allowing women inside the Lord Shani temple," Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai said on Friday.

The temple authorities too have been called for deliberations tomorrow after the womens' group brought their fight to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for lifting of the ban and submitted a memorandum of demands last week seeking his support to end gender bias and unrestricted entry to women at the temple and all other sacred places in the state.

"We too have been called for discussions tomorrow," said Dayaram Bankar, one of the trustees. On January 26, at least 400 women volunteers, mainly hailing from Pune, led by Desai made an unsuccessful attempt to storm the 'chauthara' (sacred platform) of the temple when police stopped the marchers at Supa village, 70 kms 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," Fadnavis had tweeted.

Minister of State for Home Ram Shinde too had said the government will facilitate talks between the temple authorities and women activists to arrive at an amicable solution.

The campaign had garnered support from various political and social quarters besides spiritual gurus across the country, with Congress saying that it is the "pious duty" of whole society to support such a move.

"This is also the responsibility of the government so that reason prevails over those people who are creating hurdles and problems in this direction," party General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi had said.

The shrine is dedicated to Lord Shani, who personifies the planet Saturn in Hindu belief. Women devotees are not permitted on the 'chauthara' (sacred platform) as per the tradition followed at the shrine. It has no walls or a roof. A five-foot-high black stone stands on a platform and is worshipped as Lord Shani.

Last year, a bid by the women's organisation to break the security cordon and enter the prohibited area of the temple was foiled on December 20 by security guards of the Shani Shingnapur Trust.

In Mumbai, a Muslim women's rights group is locked in a legal battle with trustees of the Haji Ali dargah, which has barred women's entry into mosque's mausoleum. A petition challenging the Haji Ali Trust's decision to ban the entry of women in the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah
(grave of a male Muslim saint) is pending before the Bombay High Court, which now sought the state's opinion on the matter.

Earlier, it said it would wait for the Supreme Court's ruling on entry of women in Sabarimala temple of Kerala before deciding on the plea related to the dargah. At Sabarimala, which attracts millions of devotees during the peak pilgrim season in November to January, women of menstrual age are not allowed to go up the holy hillock and worship.

A few years back, a huge controversy erupted after a Kannada film actress claimed that she had worshipped at the hill shrine in the prime of her youth.

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