The issue surrounding age restrictions on entry of women to Sabarimala Temple came up for the first time in Kerala High Court in 1990 when S Mahendaran of Perunna in Kottayam moved a petition, alleging that young women were trekking to Sabarimala and offering prayers at the temple. The court had then ruled that the age restrictions do not violate fundamental rights and directed the temple board to now allow women in the 10-50 years age group to trek to the temple.
Mahendran had alleged that the rice-feeding ceremony of the granddaughter of a former Devaswom Commissioner Chandrika was held at the temple in the presence of her daughter and other young women relatives. The petitioner wanted that action be taken against them. The court converted the petition into a public interest litigation, arraigning the devaswom board and the state government as respondents.
The Woman Lawyers’ Federation of India had then impleaded in the petition, arguing that barring the entry of women in the 10-50 years age group will affect the fundamental rights of those persons guaranteed under Articles 15 and 25 of the Constitution. Prevention of such women from entering the temple amounts to discrimination on the ground of sex, the federation contended.
The then LDF government had told the court that the board and the temple priests have final authority over matters related to Sabarimala.
After hearing the state government, the board and the petitioners, the high court had directed the board not to permit women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 to trek to the shrine.
The high court had concluded that the age restrictions on entry of women was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial.
“Such restriction imposed by the Devaswom Board is not violative of Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. Such restriction is also not violative of the provisions of Hindu Place of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 since there is no restriction between one section and another section or between one class and another class among the Hindus in the matter of entry to a temple whereas the prohibition is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class,’’ said the verdict by the bench of K Paripoornan and K B Marar on 5 April, 1991.