Women activists stopped from entering Shani Shingnapur temple, detained

Ahmednagar: A plan by 350 women activists to barge into the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra to break a 400-year-old tradition banning women from entering its sacred sanctum was today foiled by police when they were stopped at a village, 70 km from the shrine.

The moment the buses of activists under the banner of Bhumata Brigade reached Supa village, the volunteers led by its President Trupti Desai were disallowed from moving forward by scores of police personnel, who formed a ring to foil their march towards the famous temple.

Desai, who yesterday claimed her volunteers will climb down ladders from a helicopter to offer prayers at the 'chauthara' (platform) of Lord Shani temple if they are not allowed access, was detained and taken to Supa police station.

In a tense showdown, the activists vehemently protested against the police action and raised slogans and lay down on the road, screaming "it is a black day for women on the Republic Day."

"Police has stopped around 350 women at Supa and necessary action will be taken against them," Additional Superintendent of Police, Pankaj Deshmukh told PTI.

Desai, while speaking to reporters amid the stand-off, said that action against them was "condemnable" and that it was a "black day" for women as well as Indian democracy on the Republic Day." An angry Desai demanded to know why women were being discriminated against and asserted the activists will go ahead with their plans.

Urging the volunteers to remain firm on their stand, Desai said that they are launching a "satyagrah" on the spot and would not even drink water unless they are allowed to move forward.

"This is brazen violation of the constitutional rights of women...We want to know from Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) why we have been stopped.. We will move ahead," Desai asserted.

Squatting and lying on the highway along with other campaigners, she alleged that they were "manhandled" by the police personnel and claimed that some of their supporters have already reached Shani Shignapur temple.

She urged the "young" Chief Minister to step in and take urgent measures to curb attempts and social mechanisms to suppress womens' voice and their empowerment.

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shani, the personification of planet Saturn, and women devotees are not permitted at the platform as per the tradition followed by the shrine.

Earlier in the day, Desai, leading the campaign, had declared that the women volunteers would try to enter the "prohibited premises" of the ancient temple to remove gender bias and defy the tradition that denied equality to women.

Security has been tightened around the temple and nearby places even as Ahmednagar district administration and police authorities sealed all approaches to the shrine, which bars women from entering the platform where Lord Shani is worshipped.

All entry points to Ahmednagar witnessed heavy security cover with barricades and police personnel deployed at every nook and corner of the locality to prevent the activists from reaching the temple.