The issue of women's entry into religious shrines is back in the limelight as activists from the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, an organisation for women, under the leadership of activist Trupti Desai on Monday announced that they will march to the Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik and attempt to enter its sanctum sanctorum.
The entry of women into the sanctorum of the temple is banned. The temple trust claimed that the ban on women is based on tradition and that no objection has been raised on the issue so far, according to an IBNLive report.
The ancient temple in Trimbak town, located 30 km from Nashik, houses one of the 12 Jyotirlingas. The shrine has been turned into a fortress in view of the country-wide terror alert and also because of the flow of lakhs of devotees on account of the festival of Maha Shivratri.
"We will definitely enter (the sancorum) today. The police will not repeat their mistake this time because this is about a right given to us by the Constitution. The police had insulted the Constitution the last time they had stopped us," Desai told CNN-IBN.
Desai was talking about the time when a group of women from the Bhumata Brigade was stopped from entering the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra.
The 350 women activists had been stopped by police in a village 70 km from the shrine as they tried to break a 400-year-old tradition banning women from entering its sacred sanctum.
"We will hold the CM responsible if we are detained this time," Desai further said. "I request the Chief Minister to give us police protection instead of trying to stop us... If they detain us, this will be an insult to International Women's Day and to women."
"Also, since a high alert has been announced, Nashik Police had requested us not to come in buses. Hence we are going by small vehicles. We have even reduced our women members and there are only 150-175 women, who will try to enter the sanctum in a peaceful manner," Desai said.
Nashik Rural Police tightened security around the temple in the pilgrimage town to avoid a face-off similar to what happened at Supa village on 26 January, when the women activists were proceeding towards Shingnapur.
"We have deployed extra police force and also put barricades to restrict activists of Bhumata Brigade with a view to maintain law and order of this small town," Deputy SP, Praveen Munde said.
Meanwhile, right-wing organisations including Mahila Dakshata Samiti, Sharada Mahila mandal, Purohit Sangh and others have came together and decided to stop the activists before they reach the temple.
According to Kailas Ghule, member of the Trimbakeshwar Temple Trust, the bar on entry of women into the sanctum sanctorum is an age-old tradition and not something enforced in recent times.
Women, however, can have 'darshan' from outside the core area.
He said men too are not allowed into the core worship area for an hour between 6-7 AM on all days.
As per tradition, only men are allowed entry into the area where the main 'linga' is placed, that too by adorning a specific gear called the sovala (silk clothing).
Also, some priests in the temple town said most of the women devotees may not want to defy the tradition.
Seeking to give a scientific angle to the practice, they said there are certain rays that concentrate in the core area which could probably be harmful to the health of women.
Desai had in February also received an anonymous threat letter warning her of dire consequences like thinker Narendra Dabholkar. Dabholkar was found murdered on 20 August 2013.
The two-page letter written in Marathi had questioned her selection of Shani Shingnapur temple as an agenda.
The letter had warned her either to stay away from the issue or face fatal consequences like Dabholkar.
Desai had filed a complaint against unknown person at the Sahkar Nagar Police Station in Pune. A police officer had confirmed about the threatening contents of the letter. "We will investigate the letter," a police officer had said.
However, the Bhumata Brigade chief was not scared by the threat to her life.
"No, I am not frightened by the threat. If anyone is threatening to kill me, the person should come on record. He is afraid of me. That's why he has not dared to mention his name. This kind of threats are common in social service," Desai had told Firstpost from Pune.
(With inputs from PTI)