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MUMBAI (Web Desk) – An Indian high court has ruled that women have a fundamental right to enter temples, paving the way for an easing of gender restrictions at places of worship across the country.

The Mumbai high court said the government authorities should ensure that women are not prevented from entering any Hindu place of worship across the state of Maharashtra, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

“Ultimately it is the fundamental right of a woman and the government’s fundamental duty to protect their right,” Chief Justice D H Waghela said.

Some 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.

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The court’s directive came Friday after an activist challenged the centuries-old ban on women entering the inner sanctum of Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra state’s Ahmednagar district.

The Mumbai court said state authorities must implement a 1956 law on Hindu worship, which mandates that a person who prevents women from entering a temple can be imprisoned for six months.

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.

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.