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SC upholds women’s right to worship at Kerala’s Sabarimala temple

In a dissenting judgement, Justice Indu Malhotra stated that the present judgement won't be limited to Sabarimala, it will have wide ramifications and that issues of deep religious sentiments shouldn't be ordinarily interfered into. 

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 28, 2018 1:21:05 pm
The Supreme Court struck down the centuries-old practice at Sabarimala temple. (Express Archives)

In another landmark judgment, the Supreme Court Friday allowed women, irrespective of their age, to enter Kerala’s  Sabarimala temple. A five-member constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra, in a 4-1 majority, struck down provisions of The Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 that banned women between the age of 10 and 50 from the temple. The practice had been in place for centuries.

Justice Malhotra, the lone woman on the bench, had a dissenting view.

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Delivering the judgment for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, CJI Misra said Ayyappa devotees do no constitute a separate religious denomination. “Patriarchy in religion cannot be allowed to trump right to pray and practise religion. Any rule based on biological characteristics cannot pass muster of constitutional test. Ayyappa devotees do no constitute a separate religious denomination,” CJI Misra said. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) had argued in court that they should be allowed to make the rules for the Sabarimala temple as they form a denomination.

Justice Chandrachud, in his opinion, said, “Religion cannot be cover to deny women right to worship. To treat women as children of lesser God is to blink at Constitutional morality. Physiological features cannot be a ground for denial of right.”

Read | The Sabarimala controversy Explained

Justice Malhotra, meanwhile, said, “What constitutes essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide not the court. Notions of rationality cannot be brought into matters of religions.” She went on to say, “Balance needs to be struck between religious beliefs on one hand and cherished principles of non-discrimination and equality laid down by Constitution on the other.”

Justice Malhotra further stated that the present judgment won’t be limited to Sabarimala, it will have wide ramifications and that issues of deep religious sentiments shouldn’t be ordinarily interfered into.

Reacting to the developments,  A Padmakumar, president of Travancore Devaswom Board, said they will file a review petition after securing support from other religious heads.

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

Ayyappan of Sabarimala is worshipped as a celibate god. Pilgrims assume the identity of Ayyappan once they take the initiation vows for the pilgrimage. They are expected to practice celibacy and abstinence during the 41-day vratam. That Sabarimala stands out among Kerala’s temples spaces for its accommodation of all devotees irrespective of religion and caste has helped the shrine administrators to evade the rights test — in this case, that of women of a particular age group. The unique and site-specific tradition also kept it outside the purview of temple entry protests that had rocked Travancore, Kochi and Malabar, which together became Kerala in 1956.

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