The Supreme Court on July 18, 2018 observed that banning the entry of women in Kerala’s Sabarimala temple by the temple authorities is unconstitutional and questioned the authorities regarding the same.
The court stated that women have the right to enter and pray like men at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala as the fundamental right of freedom to practice religion is provided to all persons by the Constitution. The observation was made by a five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.
The bench also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
• The arguments in the case included that the bar on the entry of women into the popular temple was a kind of discrimination on the ground of sex and based on the assumption that menstruating women are “polluted“.
• The Supreme Court bench termed the notification of the Devaswom board, which runs the temple, banning entry of women of a particular age group as absurd.
• It said exclusion of a particular age group of women forces them to disclose their menstruation stage and it violates their privacy.
• The court was informed by the Kerala government that it also supported the entry of women of all age groups in the temple. The government also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court regarding the same.
• Despite much debate and discussion, the hearing remained inconclusive and would continue on July 19.
CJI Dipak Misra: “On what basis you (temple authorities) deny the entry. It is against the Constitutional mandate. Once you open it for the public, anybody can go.”
Justice DY Chandrachud: “The right to pray is equal for both men and women. Your (intervener) right to pray being a woman is equal to that of a man and it is not dependent on a law to enable you to do that.”
“When a man can enter, a woman can also go. What applies to a man, applies to a woman also,” the bench said.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, also supported the entry of women into the shrine and said that the denial was violative of the fundamental rights.
• The observations came during the hearing on the issue of women in the menstruating age of 10 to 50 years being barred from entering the over 800-year-old Sabarimala shrine.
• The Supreme Court was hearing pleas filed by petitioners- Indian Young Lawyers Association and other activists, seeking elimination of the ban imposed on the entry of a section of women to Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple.
• The apex court had on October 13, 2017 referred the issue to a Constitution bench after framing five “significant” questions including whether the practice of banning entry of women into the temple amounted to discrimination and violated their fundamental rights under the Constitution.
• As per norms prescribed by the Sabarimala temple board- Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), women aged between 10 and 50 are prohibited from visiting the temple premises. The Kerala High Court had upheld the ban in its ruling in 1991.
• However, in January 2016, the apex court had questioned the ban, saying that this could not be done under the Constitution.
• In November 2016, the Kerala government had told the Supreme Court that it was ready to allow women inside the temple.
• In January 2018, the temple board decided to make proof-of-age documents mandatory for female devotees at the shrine.
• The Sabarimala shrine is an ancient Hindu temple of Lord Ayyappan, who is also known as sasta or Dharmasasta. The temple is a prominent pilgrimage site among the Hindu devotees in the state of Kerala.