The Bombay High Court on Wednesday came out in favour of women’s right to worship saying there is no law that prevents women from entering a place of worship, and if men are allowed entry, women should be allowed too.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice D.H. Waghela and Justice M.S. Sonak said: “There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place. If you allow men, then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity, why not women? It is the State government’s duty to protect the rights of women.”
The Bench said if temple authorities impose restrictions on someone’s entry in a religious place, they could face six months’ imprisonment as per the Maharashtra law.
The Bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) plea filed by activist Vidya Bal and Advocate Nilima Varta seeking the entry of women, in not just the temple but also the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple. The petition claims that the prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and violative of the fundamental rights of a citizen. The Aurangabad Bench of the High Court is already hearing two PIL petitions seeking entry of women in the temple.
The court remarked: “If it is the sanctity of the deity that you are worried about, then let the government make such a statement. Under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, if any temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple, then he or she faces a six-month imprisonment,” the court said.
The court also said the government should give wide publicity to the Act and issue circulars, informing the general public at large about the Act and its provisions.
The court has directed additional government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani to take instructions on the basis of the Act on whether or not it will ensure that women will be allowed to enter the temple, and make a statement on Friday.
PIL on Haji Ali dargah entry
On February 9, the Bombay High Court reserved its verdict on a PIL plea that challenges the ban on the entry of women in the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah, a centuries-old Sufi shrine in the city. The PIL was filed by Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan that states that women have always been allowed at the dargah, but in June 2012, the Dargah trust restricted the entry of women to the sanctorum in the dargah.
The State government in its submission said that equality must rule over tradition and customs and that the dargah trust should only administer, not regulate, tradition.