India Supreme Court clears way for women’s entry in Sabarimala temple in Kerala

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‘Right to worship is given to all devotees and there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender’

Sabarimala temple.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court India opened the doors of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa to the women in the age group of 10-50 on Friday. The court said the existing practice was violative of their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.

In a majority judgment, Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge in the five-judges bench, gave a dissenting judgment.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra
 
“Right to worship is given to all devotees and there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender. The practice of barring women in age group of 10-50 to go inside the temple is violative of constitutional principles,” said Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra while delivering the verdict.  

Devotees of Lord Ayyappa are Hindus: they don’t constitute a separate religious denomination. No physiological and biological factor can be given legitimacy if it doesn’t pass the test of conditionality. Restrictions put by Sabarimala temple can’t be held as essential religious practice, Justice Dipak Misra said.

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman

“Morality for the purpose of 25 and 26 is ephemeral in nature. Fundamental Rights under PART III  of Constitution is essential for transformation of a society,” Justice Nariman said in his verdict. 

“Anything destructive of individuality is anachronistic of Constitutionality. To treat women as lesser people blinks at the Constitution itself. Dignity of individual is an unwavering nature of fundamental rights,” he said. 

“The fact that women have a physiological feature of menstruating has nothing to do with her right to pray,” Justice Nariman said. 

Justice Indu Malhotra

“Religious practices can’t solely be tested on the basis of the right to equality. It’s up to the worshippers, not the court to decide what’s religion’s essential practice,” Justice Indu Malhotra, dissenting judge in the 4-1 verdict.  

“Present judgement won’t be limited to Sabarimala, it will have wide ramifications. Issues of deep religious sentiments shouldn’t be ordinarily interfered into,” she said. 

 

 

Earlier, the hearing on the challenge to the practice by the five-judge constitution bench had seen Kerala government asserting that the Sabarimala temple does not belong to a religious denomination and it could not invoke the protection of Article 26 of the Constitution to save the practice of prohibiting women in the age group of 10 to 50 years from entering the temple.

The matter, which witnessed shifting stands of the Kerala government with the change of governments, saw the Left Front government telling the court that Lord Jagannath’s temple, Kash Vishwnath temple and similar religious places are not denominational temples but the Ramakrishna Mission was a denominational entity.

On the conclusion of the hearing, the constitution bench had made it clear that it would decide the issue based on constitutional provisions and not by the statues enacted by the state – Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institution Act, 1950 and Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965.

(With inputs from agencies)

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