For over four centuries, women have been barred from stepping onto the high platform on which stands a black stone -- symbolising Lord Shanidev, the personification of planet Saturn. From 2010, even men were barred from climbing onto the platform on grounds of safety. But on Friday, a few village youths barged through the steel barricades and offered prayers.
Bhumata Ranragini Brigade president Trupti Desai, several women activists, women from the Sonai village and neighbouring towns trooped to the temple too after and Trust decision. They were allowed to enter and pray peacefully in the evening, breaking centuries old traditions. An unidentified woman had unknowingly done the prayers in November last year, setting off a chain of events which finally culminated in a victory for gender equality on Friday.
Trupti Desai, who was one week ago prevented and assaulted while trying to climb on the temple steps, experienced a sea change when she offered prayers, oil abhishek and flowers on Friday amid cheers by a large number of people. Friday's decision was welcomed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. In January, the temple trust overturned another old practice and unanimously elected Anita Shetye as its first ever woman chairperson and another woman as a trustee.
On April 1, a division bench of Bombay High Court had ruled that under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, women could not be barred from any place of worship.
The court directed the state government to take pro-active steps to ensure compliance with the law, saying "it is the fundamental right of a woman and must be protected". The government said it was totally opposed to gender discriminaton.
A day after the verdict, a group of women were stopped from entering the temple complex.The unique open temple has no walls or roof. A self-emerged (svayambhu) five-foot black stone stands on a platform and is worshipped as Lord Shanidev, in the centre of the small village. Shani Shingnapur is known as the only village where houses do not have doors and locks, and yet it remains theft free. Even the UCO Bank's branch in the village does not have locks on its doors. Belief has it that thieves cannot steal or burgle in the village which is protected by Lord Shani and misfortune would befall anyone who steals.