In a monumental victory for women’s rights to worship, the Supreme Court Friday overturned centuries-old traditions to allow entry for women of all ages at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. For decades, the temple management cited traditions including the ‘eternal celibate’ nature of the presiding deity Lord Ayyappa to deny entry to women of procreating age. However, women who have attained menopause have regularly visited the hill shrine in Pathanamthitta district.
The Supreme Court’s five-judge Constitution bench made it clear that devotion cannot be subjected to discrimination and that patriarchy in religion cannot be allowed to trump right to pray and practice religion. While four of the five judges ruled in favour of lifting the ban on women’s entry at Sabarimala, Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman on the bench, contended that the petition does not deserve to be entertained.
A wide array of people reacted to the top court verdict which will have repercussions on the crores of devotees thronging the temple every year. Here are some of those reactions:
Kadakampally Surendran, Minister for Co-operation, Tourism and Devaswom: “This was a legal fight which had been going on for a long time. Discussions covering all aspects of women’s entry to religious shrines have been held in the High Court and Supreme Court. I welcome the verdict of the Supreme Court. The Devaswom Board will decide how to implement this order, they will decide on the security of women who will climb the hill to visit the shrine. There are dissonant opinions on this issue but the government is confident that a consensus can be found.”
Sasikumar Varma, member of the Pandalam royal family: “I will not say that the top court’s ruling is wrong or incorrect, but this verdict is not of our expectations. It is deeply disappointing for the devotees. The verdict has not been beneficial for the beliefs of so many people in our traditions, rituals and customs.”
Kandaru Rajeevar, member of the Thazhamon priest family: “I accept and respect the verdict of the Supreme Court. For me personally, this judgment is disappointing for me. I was of the opinion that old traditions should have been followed.”
A Padmakumar, Devaswom Board president: “The Devaswom Board will seriously discuss this issue. As a law-abiding body, the Travancore Devaswom Board humbly welcomes this order of the Supreme Court. We aim to take a stand in consultation with the state government on the aspects of safety and security of women who will visit the temple. We will take all steps to implement the court order after taking opinions of the priests and the Pandalam royal family.”
Akeeramon Kalidasa Bhattathiripad, Yogakshema Sabha leader: “It is disappointing. I am not disrespecting the court but my personal opinion is that it should have arrived at a decision after wider deliberations. I think it is a blow to Hindu traditions. I cannot see it as a big change because it is never said that women are not allowed into Sabarimala but there are age restrictions.”
Alphons Kannanthanam, Union MoS for Tourism: “I cannot comment on the verdict without reading the judgment first.”
G Sudhakaran, PWD Minister: This is an admirable verdict. The Supreme Court has stayed true to history, society and the Constitution. Sabarimala is a place where people of all castes and religions can enter. No one can say that women of a certain age can enter the temple there. This is a verdict that India can be proud of.”
Ramesh Chennithala, Congress leader and LoP: “When the Supreme Court rules, every Indian must follow it. At the same time, we must also seriously look at the traditions and rituals followed at every place of worship.”
PS Sreedharan Pillai, BJP Kerala president: “The state government and the Devaswom board must aim to build a consensus, and not escalate the issue into a conflict. An administration, that does not believe in God, must not attempt to take advantage of the situation. On one side are the beliefs of crores of people. On the other side is the fight for equal rights. The two sides must be brought together. Without compromising on the importance of Sabarimala, there must be an atmosphere of consensus. Social equilibrium must be maintained.”