AHMEDNAGAR/Nagpur: A group of nearly 500 women activists who were en route to a Maharashtra temple have been stopped 40 km away. The women were planning to force their way to the section where a stone considered holy and representative of Lord Shani is installed.
The activists, packed into six buses departed from Pune earlier today, saying they want to end a centuries-old ban on women entering the inner-most part of the temple in Ahmednagar where the idol is placed on an open-air platform. But the temple’s priests and the members of the board that runs the shrine, 250 km from Mumbai, say that’s unacceptable. With support from locals, they have pledged to form a human chain of women to keep the activists out.
“They can fight for equality in other areas, but why are they trying to change such an old tradition,” asked one woman who lives near the temple and says she will lend her efforts to fighting the activists.
Security has been increased near the temple
The police have said large groups of people cannot gather in the town today as part of an attempt to prevent violence from erupting when the activists arrive.
Those in favour of maintaining the ban on women in a part of the temple say that female devotees can be harmed by the “strong vibrations emerging from Lord Shani”, a view endorsed by Anita Shete, who was recently elected the first woman president of the temple’s governing board.
“When men go there, it’s perfect but when women go it becomes unsacred,” said activist Trupti Desai, who is leading the campaign to change the rules of entry.
The campaign and protests to end the ban on women began in November, when a woman entered the open platform to offer prayers. The priests then “purified” the area with milk and oil.