NEW DELHI (AP) — Around 25 female activists were prevented Saturday from entering a temple in western India traditionally open only to men, a day after a Mumbai court ruled that women have a fundamental right to enter and pray inside temples.
The activists entered the Shani Shingnapur temple compound, but were stopped from offering prayers in the temple's inner sanctum. Police moved the women to a safe place after angry villagers barricaded the temple and said they would attack anyone who tried to forcibly enter the main shrine.
The temple, located in Maharashtra state, has become the focus of a protest by female activists who say they're fighting a centuries-old tradition of barring women from worshipping at some Hindu temples.
The women had made a similar attempt to enter the Shani Shingnapur temple in January, but were stopped by police some distance away after protests were staged by temple priests and local villagers, mostly men.
Trupti Desai, president of the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, or Women Warriors of Mother Earth, then filed a petition in the Bombay High Court in Mumbai. On Friday, the court ruled that women could enter any temple in Maharashtra state.
The state government said that any person who tried to prevent women from entering a temple could be sentenced to six months in jail for flouting the court ruling.
The court said that while offering prayers at a temple is "the fundamental right of a woman," it is the government's "fundamental duty" to protect women.
Desai said the women were pushed around by the villagers on Saturday when they tried to enter the inner sanctum of the temple.
"What are the police doing? They were directed to provide protection to us by the court," Desai told reporters.
The Shani Shingnapur temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shani, believed to be a personification of the planet Saturn. The temple is located in Ahmadnagar town, 185 kilometers (115 miles) east of Mumbai, India's financial hub.