Mumbai (AFP) - Angry villagers blocked a group of women activists from entering the inner sanctum of a temple in western India Saturday, despite a court order mandating Hindu women's right to worship.
The high court in Mumbai said Friday women had a fundamental right to enter temples and directed authorities not to bar them from any Hindu place of worship across the state of Maharashtra.
Buoyed by the high court order, a group of about 30 women activists tried to enter the shrine of Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district on Saturday, television footage showed.
But hundreds of villagers -- both male and female -- who believe in the centuries-old tradition of barring women from entering the shrine formed a human wall, forcing the female protesters to retreat.
"The honourable court has recognised our right to pray. Police must provide us protection and allow us to enter the shrine," Trupti Desai, the activists' leader, told TV channels.
"We will not leave without entering the platform (where the Shani idol is kept)," she said amid chaotic scenes on the temple grounds.
A few Hindu temples in India ban women from entering the inner sanctum, with Kerala's famous Sabarimala temple barring all female worshippers aged between 10 and 50 years.
The court also said Friday that state authorities must implement a 1956 law on Hindu worship, which stipulates that a person who prevents women from entering a temple can be imprisoned for six months.
The court's directive came after Desai challenged the ban and called it "a symbol of gender inequality" that should not be tolerated in the 21st century.
Women have also been prevented from entering Mumbai's Haji Ali Dargah mausoleum since 2011, with its trust saying close female proximity to the tomb of a revered saint is "a grievous sin" in Islam.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had earlier voiced support for Desai, saying Indian culture and Hindu religion gave women the equal right to pray.
Around 80 percent of India's 1.2 billion population is Hindu, but the country is also home to large numbers of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.