Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala Temple case: Women of all ages can enter now

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Another master stroke by the Supreme Court. In a landmark judgement, and putting an end to the centuries-old tradition, the apex court ruled that women, irrespective of age would have the access to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, adding that, “women no way inferior to men”.

Previously, the apex court was dealing with a clutch of pleas challenging the ban on entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. To be precise, women found in between the menstrual age have been restricted from entering the temple as the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered to be a naishtika brahmachari’ i.e. eternal celibate.

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Today, a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, added that the provision in the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965, which had authorized the restriction, practically violated the right of Hindu women to practice religion. Further it added that, patriarchy in religion cannot be allowed to obstruct the right to pray. He further observed that, “On one hand, women are worshiped as Goddesses, but there are restrictions on the other hand. Relationship with God can’t be defined by biological or physiological factors”.

The division bench, which also comprised names like Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, had reserved its verdict in the case on August 2 this year, after hearing the case for 8 days. Out of these, four judgments, including CJI Mishra were delivered today in favor of women.

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Strangely enough, Justice Malhotra, being the only woman in the division bench, penned a dissenting verdict, said the petition does not deserve to be entertained, thus disagreeing with her peers. Further she added that, “Religious practices can’t solely be tested on the basis of the right to equality. It’s up to the worshipers, not the court to decide what’s religion’s essential practice”. In fact opposing the judgement, she also feared that, “Present judgement won’t be limited to Sabarimala, it will have wide ramifications. Issues of deep religious sentiments shouldn’t be ordinarily interfered into”.

Previously, a clutch of petitions had challenged the ban, which was upheld by the Kerala High Court. The HC had then ruled that only the “tantri (priest)” was empowered to decide on traditions. Then the petitioners, including Indian Young Lawyers Association and Happy to Bleed, argued in court that the tradition is discriminatory in nature and stigmatized women, and also added that women should be allowed to pray at the place of their choice.

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After this comes the historic judgement by CJI Mishra where he added that, the devotees of Lord Ayyappa are Hindus, thus they don’t constitute a separate religious denomination. No physiological and biological factor can be given legitimacy if it doesn’t pass the test of conditionality. Thus the restrictions placed by Sabarimala temple can’t be held as essential religious practice.

However, this judgement would have its far reaching implications. For instance, Sabarimala head priest Kandararu Rajeevaru added that even if disappointed, but would accept the Supreme Court Verdict.

Also, Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar regarded that, “We will go for a review petition after getting support from other religious heads”.