Giving a new impetus to campaign for gender equality, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday observed that if men are allowed in a place of worship, then women too should be permitted. “No law prevents women from entering a place of worship,” the court observed, even as it came down heavily on the Maharashtra government for not acting against those who imposed such restrictions.Pointing out that any temple or person imposing such restriction can face a six-month jail term under a Maharashtra law, a division bench of chief justice DH Waghela and justice MS Sonak remarked, “If a male can go and pray before the deity, then why not a female? It is the state government’s duty to protect the rights of women.” The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by senior advocate Nilima Vartak and activist Vidya Bal, challenging the prohibition of entry of women in the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place. If you allow men, then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity, then why not women? It is the state government’s duty to protect the rights of women,” the bench said.It further added, “If it is the sanctity of the deity that you are worried about, then let the government make such a statement. Under the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorization) Act, 1956, if any temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple then he or she faces a six-month imprisonment.”Asking the government to give wide publicity to the Act and issue circulars informing the general public at large about the Act and its provisions, it directed government pleader Abhinandan Vagyani to take instructions and make a statement on Friday, on whether or not it will ensure that women will be allowed to enter the temple.The petition seeks the entry of women not just into the temple, but also inside its sanctum sanctorum. The petition says that the prohibition is arbitrary, illegal and in violation of fundamental rights of citizens.Breaching ban rulesThe debate over equal access to women in places of worship escalated after a woman last year tried to enter the Shani Shingnapur temple, in ‘breach’ of the age-old practice of prohibiting entry of women. This had prompted the temple committee to suspend seven security men and conduct purification rituals. Subsequently, the Bhumata brigade led by Trupti Desai vowed to breach the ban and fight for gender justice.