Government officials in India’s Maharashtra state have called for talks between protesters who tried to storm a Hindu temple that bars entry to women and temple officials, as a campaign for equal access to temples gathers momentum.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis met women activists on Wednesday, a day after hundreds of them tried to force their way into the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar in western India, clashing with villagers. Police briefly detained the protesters.
Fadnavis said state officials would facilitate talks between the activists and temple authorities, as #RightToPray trended on Twitter for a second day in India.
“Indian culture and the Hindu religion have always given women the right to worship,” Fadnavis said in a tweet late on Tuesday.
“A change in tradition in accordance with the times is our culture. Discrimination in worshipping is not our culture.”
The temple, which has barred women for centuries from the inner sanctum that is dedicated to Shani, or Saturn, is one of a handful in India that bars women.
The popular Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in southern Kerala state, which denies entry to women of reproductive age, is the subject of a petition in the Supreme Court, which has asked temple authorities to explain why they forbid women entry.
Politicians and spiritual leaders have weighed in on the highly contentious issue, with the head of the lawyers’ group that filed the Sabarimala temple petition saying they had received hundreds of death threats for their action.
“There is discrimination against women across religions,” said Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer and co-founder of Majlis legal centre in Mumbai.
“It’s high time we took this up as an issue about equality for women, and not just entry into a temple.”