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In a U-turn, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala on Monday informed the Supreme Court that it favoured the entry of women of all age groups in the historic Sabarimala temple in the state. The counsel for the state government, which had earlier supported the ban on women’s entry in the temple in its additional affidavit filed in July this year, told the apex court it will now go by its original response filed in 2007 favouring entry of women in the temple premises.
Initially, the LDF government had taken a progressive stand in 2007 by favouring women’s entry in the temple, which was over-turned by the Congress-led United Democratic Front dispensation later. However, the UDF, before losing power to the LDF this year, had taken a view that it was against the entry of women of the age group of 10-to-50 years into the temple as such a practice was being followed since time immemorial.
“On being asked as to what is the stand of the state, senior advocate Gupta states that the state intends to place reliance on its original affidavit (2007) and not on additional affidavit…women of any age group should not be debarred from entry into the temple to worship the deity,” a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan said.
The bench also recorded the submission of senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for the Travancore Devaswom Board which manages the hill-top shrine, that the state cannot afford to alter its stand as per their convenience.
The bench, which has now fixed the matter for hearing on February 13 next year, said the stand of the government is not the final one as it will take a decision after deliberating upon various aspects including the constitutional provisions with regard to gender equality.
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“Can a woman, because of the biological phenomenon, be debarred from entring into the temple. Can there be a prohibition in law…she may or may not go to the temple, it is her choice,” the bench observed.
The apex court had on July 11 indicated that it may refer to a five-judge constitution bench the issue of the centuries -old practice of barring entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age in the historic Sabarimala temple, saying it pertains to violation of fundamental rights.
The apex court had observed that women are conferred rights under the Constitution and it would pass a detailed order in case the matter is referred to a five-judge constitution bench.
It had remarked: “a temple is a public religious place. You cannot refuse entry to a woman who comes there … It violates the rights of women. We understand the seriousness of issue. Every right needs to be balanced but every balancing has its own limitations…”.
The apex court had earlier questioned the practice of barring entry of women to Sabarimala temple, saying it would test whether “faith and belief” can differentiate among persons of same denomination.
The management of the Sabarimala temple, located on a hilltop in the Western Ghats of Pathanamthitta district, had earlier told the court that the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years was because they cannot maintain “purity” on account of menstruation.