Saturday, April 2, 2016

Government as Bombay High Court 'ends' gender bias in Maharashtra temples

In a victory for campaign against gender bias in places of worship, the Maharashtra government on Friday assured the Bombay High Court that it would strictly implement the rules to ensure that women are no longer denied entry to temples in the state.

A division bench of chief justice DH Waghela and justice MS Sonak observed: "It is the fundamental right of women to get entry to temples and the fundamental duty of the government (state) to protect that right, to ensure that they are fully realised and not allowed to be encroached upon by any authority."

The court, disposing of a petition filed by senior advocate Nilima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal, said, "The state government has to take proactive steps to properly implement the provisions of the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956."

As per the provisions in the Act, those preventing anyone from entering a temple face a six-month imprisonment.

The petitioners had challenged the bar on entry of women in the sanctum sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur temple in the state's Ahmednagar district. However, the court said it cannot pass any specific directions with regards to a particular case, but can only give general direction to the government.

Acting advocate general Rohit Deo assured the court that the state Home department would properly implement the Act. He informed the court that a circular would be issued to superintendents of police and district collectors, making them aware about the Act. He also clarified that the Act could be implemented only in temples/religious places where entry of men is allowed. If they (men) are restrained from entering the sanctum sanctorum then it will be applicable for women too.

During the last hearing, the high court had observed that if men are allowed in a place of worship, then women should also be permitted as no law prevents them from doing so.

The petition filed by the two women had sought entry of women not just into the temple, but also inside its sanctum sanctorum. The petition says that the prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of fundamental rights of citizens.

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