The observation came during a public interest litigation filed by lawyer Nilima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal who have challenged the ban on entry of women at the well known Shani Shingnapur Temple in Ahmednagar district.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice D.H. Waghela and Justice M.S. Sonak said that any temple or person imposing such restrictions could attract a six-month jail term in Maharashtra.
“If a male can go and pray before the deity, then why not women; and it is the duty of the state government to protect women’s rights,” Chief Justice Waghela said.
“If the concerns were about the sanctity of the deity then the state government must make such a statement,” the court said, and pointed out that under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, any temple or person banning any person from entering a temple can face a six-month jail term.
Directing the government to give wide publicity to the law and issue circulars for the benefit of the general public, it asked the government pleader A. Vagyani to make a statement whether the government would ensure entry for women in the temple.
The petitioner has sought entry for women not just inside the Shani Shingnapur Temple, but also in its sanctum sanctorum, and said banning of women there is “illegal, arbitrary and violative of fundamental rights” of citizens.
Since the past few months the Shani Shingnapur Temple has been in the news after attempts were made by the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade (BRB) activists to storm its sanctum sanctorum.
The temple management has made it clear that women would not be permitted on the open-to-sky temple’s footsteps leading to the black stone signifying the sun god.
The BRB president Trupti Desai has said they would not relent till women are permitted full entry to the Shani Shingnapur Temple and also the Trimbakeshwar Temple in Nashik, where women are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum.