India Hindu leader: 'Women in Shani temple will increase rapes'

Shankaracharya Swaroopanand
Image caption Shankaracharya Swaroopanand's comments have drawn criticism

A Hindu religious leader's comment that allowing women into a shrine devoted to Lord Shani (Saturn) will increase rapes has drawn criticism.

Shankaracharya Swaroopanand's comments came two days after the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra state let women into the inner sanctum.

For centuries, the temple had been open only to men.

Last month, the high court in Mumbai affirmed the right of women to enter and pray inside all temples.

Women's activists had led protests demanding entry specifically to the Lord Shani shrine.

"Women entered Shani temple's inner sanctum," news agency ANI quoted the 94-year-old as saying on Monday.

"The women are worshipping Shani in the temple. By doing so, Shani's eyes would fall on women and this would result in increase of rape incidents."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Shani Shingnapur temple has barred women from the inner sanctum for centuries

Women were kept out of the Shani Shingnapur temple for nearly 400 years and temple officials, in the past, had claimed that the ban was actually "to protect women since Shani emits radiation which can harm them and cause deformity in a foetus if a pregnant woman enters the temple".

Last year, temple priests carried out an elaborate ritual cleansing after a woman managed to gain entry inside and offer prayers.

The temple authorities relented after last month's high court ruling that women had a fundamental right to enter temples, and said those trying to prevent them would be handed a six-month jail term.

Several temples in India preserve the tradition of barring entry to women and in recent months, courts have been considering legal challenges to the policy.

Shankaracharya Swaroopanand's statement has caused outrage in India with many taking to social media to criticise him:

Image copyright @bhak_sala
Image copyright @mainbhiengineer
Image copyright @DeepaRC

There were a few messages of support too:

Image copyright @AgentSaffron

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