The Supreme Court on Monday questioned whether restricting entry of a particular gender into places of worship can be a matter of managing religious affairs, adding that it will test the validity of such rules on constitutional principles.
“Gender equality is a constitutional message and they (temple management) cannot say that this (banning women) comes under their right to manage religious affairs…we would test the validity of such restrictions on the constitutional principles,” observed a bench led by Justice Dipak Misra.
The bench, which also includes Justices V Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph, said that the apex court would examine if a custom is protected under the law and the Constitution, which gives exclusive right to various groups for managing their religious affairs unless it tramples upon other constitutional guarantees.
During the hearing, senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for NGO ‘Happy to Bleed’ argued that constitutional principles would prevail over “discriminatory” customs and beliefs. “The ban on entry of women cannot be said to be part of the right to manage public religious places like temples,” she contended.
However, the bench stopped Jaising from arguing over the form and nature of the deity at Sabarimala. “They (Travancore Devaswom Board) rely on customs, tradition and philosophy and you rely on Constitution. Let us not get into the nature of deity,” said the court, pointing out it would examine whether any custom is protected by any law.
The court is hearing a PIL, filed by Indian Young Lawyers’ Association (IYLA), seeking entry of women in the Sabarimala temple, located on a hill-top in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district.
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