Reverting to its stand of 2007, Kerala’s Left Democratic Front (LDF) government on Monday supported the entry of women in Sabarimala temple in the state. The state government conveyed this change in stance to the Supreme Court, which recorded that the Kerala government was not against entry of women in the temple.
“On being asked as to what is the stand of the state, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta states that the state intends to place reliance on its original affidavit (filed in 2007) and not on additional affidavit… women of any age group should not be debarred from entry into the temple to worship the deity,” recorded a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan.
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In November 2007, the LDF government had stated in its affidavit: “It is not fair to deny a section of women from entering Sabarimala temple”. It had favoured appointment of a commission of scholars to facilitate the change. After the LDF lost power to the Congress-led UDF in the next Assembly polls, another affidavit was filed on behalf of the state government. This affidavit, filed by the UDF government months before the 2016 Assembly polls, withdrew what it called the “erroneous” stand of the LDF government.
The UDF government backed the ban on entry of women, arguing that the restriction on entry of women in the menstrual age group cannot be tested on the ground of fundamental right to equality since it involves essential and integral part of practising religion, which includes the “right to exclude persons”.
In May, the LDF government returned to power but it supported the change in stand by the state government, backing the prohibition against women. “In an earlier round of litigation, the LDF government was in favour of entry of women and now it has decided to defend the temple’s decision,” the state government’s counsel had informed the court in July.
But on Monday, the LDF government opted to go back to its views of 2007. Its lawyers submitted that they would rely on the original affidavit filed nine years ago and not on the additional affidavit filed by the UDF government in February 2016.
The bench took note of the LDF government’s submissions and recorded the objections of senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for the Travancore Devaswom Board which manages the hilltop 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 government’s stand is not final as it will take a decision after deliberating upon various aspects including the constitutional provisions with regard to gender equality.
“Can a woman, because of the biological phenomenon, be debarred from entering the temple. Can there be a prohibition in law…she may or may not go to the temple, it is her choice,” it observed. The bench will also examine whether the matter requires to be referred to a five-judge Constitution bench.