Women activists stopped from reaching Shani Shingnapur temple, released after being detained

Ahmednagar: Around 400 women activists today made an attempt to defy a centuries-old ban on female devotees entering the sacred platform at Shani Shingnapur temple inAhmednagar district but it was foiled by police when they were stopped at a village, 70 km from the shrine.

The activists, who tried to head to the popular temple defying prohibitory orders to worship the deity, were detained by police at Supa village for a few hours and released in the evening and sent back to Pune in busloads.

As a showdown erupted, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis 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 have 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 a dialogue," tweeted Fadnavis, who also holds Home portfolio.

Minister of State for Home Ram Shinde said Government will facilitate talks between the temple authorities and women activists to arrive at an amicable solution Ahmednagar police stopped the activists of Pune-based
'Ranaragini Bhoomata Brigade' protesting against the alleged gender bias by the temple authorities, led by Trupti Desai, at Supa village, about 70 km from the shrine, foiling their bid to offer worship at the 'chauthara' (sacred platform) of Lord Shani temple traditionally barred for women.

The detained women were lodged in a marriage hall at Supa, where they were held by women police personnel. "We detained Trupti Desai and other activists. After taking action under the relevant sections of the Bombay Police Act, they were released on bail in the evening," Additional Superintendent of Police, Ahmednagar district, Pankaj Deshmukh, said.

"We took utmost precaution to avoid any confrontation between villagers of Shani Shinganapur and the women activists and the latter has been asked to go back to Pune," he added.

The activists were later sent back to Pune in busloads, police said.

"We are going to meet the Chief Minister and request him that government should take over the temple trust and allow both men and women inside the core area of the temple, ending the gender bias and discrimination," Desai said after her release.

In a tense showdown, the activists vehemently protested against the police action and raised slogans and lay down on the road, screaming "it is a black day for women on the Republic Day."

Desai, while speaking to reporters amid the stand-off, said action against them was "condemnable" and that it was a "black day" for women as well as Indian democracy on the Republic Day." An angry Desai demanded to know why women were being discriminated against and asserted the activists will go ahead with their plans.

Desai urged the "young" Chief Minister to step in and take urgent measures to curb attempts and social mechanisms to suppress womens' voice and their empowerment.

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shani, the personification of planet Saturn, and women devotees are not permitted at the platform as per the tradition followed by the shrine.

Earlier in the day, Desai, leading the campaign, had declared that the women volunteers would try to enter the "prohibited premises" of the ancient temple to remove gender bias and defy the tradition that denied equality to women.

Security has been tightened around the temple and nearby places even as Ahmednagar district administration and police authorities sealed all approaches to the shrine, which bars women from entering the platform where Lord Shani is worshipped.

All entry points to Ahmednagar witnessed heavy security cover with barricades and police personnel deployed at every nook and corner of the locality to prevent the activists from reaching the temple.

An activist of the Brigade, Priyanka Jagtap, alleged that the protesters were handled "roughly" by police despite peaceful nature of their demonstration. Trupti Desai's husband, Prashant Desai, said, "Although we were heading to the temple peacefully, police stopped our buses and restricted us from taking blessings from the Lord Shani."

Backing the campaign by women activists to break gender bias, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said the movement is justified as there is no scriptural sanction for discriminating against female devotees.

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