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Shani Shingnapur: women on the warpath demanding their right to worship

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:30 IST

The restriction

  • Women are demanding the right to enter the sanctum of the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra
  • Women aren\'t allowed entry into the sanctum because of an old legend about Lord Shani

The flashpoint

  • Women from the Ranragini Bhumata Brigade decided to go to the temple and break the rule
  • But they were detained on the way by the police

More in the story

  • What is the reason for the restriction?
  • What are the arguments from both the sides?
  • Why the confrontation is far from over

Shani Shingnapur, a quiet and serene village in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district, is known for its popular Shani Temple. Thousands of people visit the Shani Shingnapur temple every day. However, there are restrictions on the entry of women into the sanctum of the temple.

This has been a tradition for several generations and the devotees and residents of Shani Shingnapur have accepted it. But in November last year, a woman defied the restrictions, climbed onto the platform where the Shani idol is placed and offered prayers.

After the woman's act of defiance, thousands of women across Maharashtra began demanding entry into the sanctum of the temple. The Shani Shingnapur temple trust cited the religious reasons to maintain the restrictions on the entry of women.

Also read: Sabarimala Temple can't ban women unless it has constitutional right, says Supreme Court

The residents of the village too vehemently supported the tradition and strongly opposed the demand of allowing women into the sanctum. Interestingly, the trust is headed by a woman and many women in the village are also supporting the restrictions.

The campaign

This Republic Day may prove to be a game changer for Shani Shingnapur. Despite strong opposition from the temple trust and villagers, the Ranragini Bhumata Brigade decided to go to the village and enter the sanctum in defiance of the restrictions. Over 1000 volunteers of the Brigade set out for Shani Shingnapur from Pune on Tuesday morning.

Anticipating a law and order problem, the Ahmednagar police intercepted their the agitators' vehicles near Supe village on the Pune-Ahmednagar Highway. Protesting against the police action, the volunteers of the Brigade led by its president Trupti Desai staged a sit-in demonstration on the highway.

Over 1000 protestors set out for Shani Shingnapur on Tuesday morning to end the sexist practice

While the Brigade protested on the highway, residents of Shani Shingnapur geared up to prevent the women from entering the restricted area of the temple. According to Desai, the Brigade planned to enter the temple premises and then climb the sanctum where the idol is placed to defy the "humiliating" practice. To prevent a clash, the administration had imposed prohibitory orders in Shani Shingnapur village.

The Brigade claimed that the tradition was inhuman and discriminatory towards women. On the other hand, women from the village said that the protestors were merely interested in publicity. The Gram Panchayat even passed a resolution to "preserve the 500 year old tradition and not allow women into the sanctum".

Police action

Tensions began early on Tuesday morning. The police barricaded the temple area and deployed a large number of its personnel near it. Every vehicle entering the village was checked and the identities of people were verified.

By stopping the Brigade at Supe, the police prevented a showdown at Shani Shingnapur.

Also read: Caste no bar: will the Supreme Court verdict end discrimination in temples?

"We knew that the administration would not allow us to go to the temple. We are not going to create any law and order problems, we only want to go the temple and offer prayers peacefully," said Trupti Desai who was leading the protests.

"The inhuman tradition of restricting women's entry into the sanctum, must be demolished and we shall do it at any cost," she stressed.

Despite being detained by the police, Desai said that the Brigade will not give up.

"You can't foil our plans by arresting us. Volunteers have reached the temple area secretly. They will try and enter the sanctum," she said.

According to a senior police official, the security arrangements and police deployment in the village will continue for some more days. "We will ensure that no one disturbs law and order. Every person trying to enter the temple area is being questioned and no one is being allowed without identity proof," the official said.

The volunteers who wanted to "defend" the temple dispersed soon after they received news of the the protestors' detention

"It is good that police detained the Brigade volunteers. But we will remain on our guard," said temple trustee Prafull Surpuriya.

The tradition

In December last year, the Shani Shingnapur temple trust elected a housewife Anita Shetye, as its chairperson. However, this brought about no change as far the restrictions on women were concerned.

Ironically, even Shetye cannot enter the sanctum despite being the Trust's chairperson.

The restriction is traced to a legend that Lord Shani did not want the shadow of women to fall on him

The roots of this rule are traced to a legend about Lord Shani. It is said that during his childhood, Shani kicked his sister because of a quarrel and he was subsequently punished by his mother for this.

Angered at the punishment, Lord Shani apparently decided that he didn't want even the shadow of women to fall on him.

Also read: Madras High Court ruling imposes dress code on temple-goers

First published: 26 January 2016, 11:19 IST