- Women won't be encouraged or stopped from entering, say temple officials
- To keep women out, temple banned men too but 100 barged in earlier today
- Court said women and men must have equal access
For months, women activists, in particular Trupti Desai, have tried unsuccessfully to enter a famous temple to Saturn or Lord Shani in Maharashtra. Today, temple officials said that women will "neither be encouraged nor stopped" from entering, effectively lifting a centuries-old ban.
Trustee Shalini Lande informed the mediapersons about the decision on behalf of the temple trust.
The step was immediately welcomed by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and women's group Bhumata Ranragini Brigade that was agitating for it for four months.
Earlier today, over 100 men had forced their way into the inner sanctum, in defiance of temple official.
It was only over the weekend that the temple reversed its rule and said neither men nor women would be allowed into the area that has an idol placed on an outdoor platform. The new restrictions were introduced to circumvent a court ruling that women and men must have equal access to Hindu places of worship. To keep women out, the temple barred entry for male devotees as well, and said only male priests would be allowed into the inner sanctum.
Temple officials - and thousands of locals who live near the Shani Shingnapur temple in the Ahmednagar district - have fought hard to maintain the tradition that discriminates against women.
On April 4, Ms Desai was once again barred entry. In earlier attempts, Ms Desai has been detained by the police as she neared the temple; once, she said she would lower herself into the temple with ropes from a helicopter, but was denied flying rights by local officials.
"There is no place for discrimination in Hindu culture," he said at a public rally. We will implement the honourable high court's decision in true spirit."
Last year, after a woman devotee managed to offer prayers to the Shani idol, a priest conducted an emergency cleansing ceremony.
The popular Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala, which denies entry to women of reproductive age, is the subject of a petition in the Supreme Court.