Constitution is above tradition, SC tells Sabrimala Temple trust

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the lawyers representing Sabarimala Temple trust whether tradition is above the Constitution.

Setting the next hearing in the case for 13 April, a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said, ''We will now only be guided by the rationale under the Constitution. The gravity of this petition is that gender justice is endangered.''

''The reasons banning anything must be common for all and on the bedrock of the Constitution,'' the bench, also comprising justices V Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph, said. The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Indian Young Lawyers' Association (IYLA), seeking entry of women in the Sabarimala Temple.

At the outset of the two-hour hearing, the bench asked the counsel supporting the ban about constitutional principles, which support the restraining order of the temple board. ''We would like to understand as to what right they have to forbid a woman from entering the temple, a public place,'' the bench said, patently unimpressed with the arguments that the practice has been observed for centuries and much before the Constitution came into being.

The bench said it would examine the question of whether a public religious place can pass such an order and ''whether such a prohibition is permissible under the Constitution''. The customary practices cannot override constitutional values, it said.

''Anyone can worship the God or Goddess structured into idols. I believe in God and want to bow my head, can you say, don't come,'' it asked the counsel representing the Devaswom Board. Referring to the prevalent Hindu protocol, the bench said the mother has to be greeted ahead of father, 'Kul Guru' (teacher of the clan) and 'Kul Purohit' (priest of the clan) and hence, women should not be prohibited from entering the temples.

Yielding to a high voltage campaign by activists, the Shani Shingnapur temple trust last week allowed women to enter the sanctum sanctorum, breaking the tradition followed for several decades. Significantly, lifting of all gender barriers for access to the core area came on the auspicious occasion of ''Gudi Padwa'', marking New Year for by people across Maharashtra.

The Bombay High Court had on 1 April held that it is a woman's fundamental right to go into places of worship and the government is duty-bound to protect it. The debate over the issue escalated after a woman last year tried to enter and offer prayers at the Shani Shingnapur temple, in 'breach' of the age-old practice of prohibiting entry of women.