In a landmark verdict, the Bombay High Court on Friday ruled that entering places of worship is the fundamental right of a woman and that the government is duty-bound to protect their right.
The court declared that no law prevents women from entering places of worship and there should be no gender discrimination as far as entering one is concerned.
"Ultimately, it is the fundamental right of a woman and the government's fundamental duty to protect their (women) right," a division bench of Chief Justice D.H. Waghela and Justice M.S. Sonak said while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by activists Vidya Bal and senior lawyer Nilima Varta challenging the age-old tradition of prohibiting the entry of women inside the the sanctum sanctorum of Maharashtra’s Shani Shingnapur temple.
"Secretary of Home Department, Maharashtra, will ensure due compliance and enforcement of the provisions of the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, and in order to ensure that the policy and purpose of the Act is fully carried out, they (Home department) will issue directions to all superintendents of police and collectors in each district of Maharashtra,” the court said.
As per the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, prohibiting a person from entering a temple attracts a six-month jail term under the Act.
The Maharashta Government said it would abide by the court order and issue a circular or a direction to all district collectors regarding this.
"After the court's verdict, women can now enter any temple," Petitioner Nilima Vartak said.
The court verdict came amid growing protests against the alleged sexual discrimination in places of worship like Shani Shingnapur temple and Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
At least 400 women volunteers led by social activist Trupti Desai had made an attempt to storm the chauthara of the Shani temple on January 26, but were stopped by police and local people.
Desai said she would lead a group of women to the temple on Saturday and pray at the sancturm sanctorum from where they have been barred for centuries.