The Supreme Court is likely to pronounce on Friday its verdict on the question of referring the case of restrictions on entry of women in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala to a Constitution bench.
The matter has been listed for judgment in the court of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan.
The court is seized of a petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association that challenged the custom of the temple to bar entry of women in the 10-50 age bracket (of menstruating age), saying it was discriminatory. The Kerala High Court had upheld the custom in 1991.
The Supreme Court reserved its order in the matter in February this year and asked the parties to file written submissions which should fall under the Constitutional framework that is likely to be referred to the larger bench.
Senior Counsel K K Venugopal who appeared for Travancore Devasom Board — that manages the hill shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa — had told the court that the issue was complex and involved substantive interpretation of the Constitution under Article 145(3). Under this provision, the minimum number of judges required for answering a reference is five.
He contended that this would require interpretation of Article 26, which deals with the rights of a religious denomination, and Article 25, that guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. The discrimination, if any, in the shrine was not between men and women but between women and women. He argued that the matter had already been settled by the HC and so the principle of res judicata would apply.
The state’s LDF government had in 2007 favoured the entry of all age groups of women into the shrine, but the UDF government later opposed this. The LDF, which came back to power in 2016, has returned to its old stand favouring entry.
A host of applications have been filed in the matter by various groups. While women activists have termed the practice discriminatory, other sections say it has to do with complex ritualistic practices of sanatana dharma of temples in south India.