SC rules women of all ages can enter Sabarimala temple
28 September 2018
In a development that could fundamentally maim the character and sanctity of Kerala’s famous Sabarimala Temple, the Supreme Court today ruled that women of all ages can enter the abode of the celibate deity, throwing the belief and practice of ages of all Hindu devotees to the wind.
For ages now, women of menstrual age are restricted from entering temples across the country and since a pilgrimage to Sabarimala involved 40 days of penance, and any girl past puberty is expected to go through the menstrual cycle within the 40-day period, making the penance itself unworthy, the temple had imposed restriction on women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering the temple.
While the argument that the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered to be a celibate and hence women are not allowed enter to the temple may be a feeble one, the practice of menstruating women not entering the temple is an age-old practice and is not a subject of public debate.
The apex court simply held on to the age restriction to counter the practice, and said that age cannot be a bar on temple entry.
"The practice of age restriction on women entry to Sabrimala temple can't be treated as an essential religious practice," said the court in a majority four-one judgement.
The only woman judge on the five-judge constitution bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, however, has a dissenting view.
Justice Malhotra said India has diverse religious practices and constitutional morality would allow anyone to profess and practice a religion she/he believes in and it is not for the court to interfere in such religious practices, even if it may appear discriminatory.
The right to equality claimed by some conflicts with the right to follow a religious practice, again a fundamental right, and rejects plea for entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala temple, she said.
Justice Malhotra also pointed the issues raised have serious implications for all religions and that issues which have deep religious connotation should not be tinkered with to maintain “secular” atmosphere in the country.
Worshippers of Sabarimala temple constitute a separate religious denomination and they are entitled to continue with their essential practices, which include not allowing women in 10-50 age group to enter the temple, added Justice Malhotra.
Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra saw it as a patriarchal notion of devotion being subjected to discrimination and denial of equality.
For centuries, women of menstrual age were restricted from entering the temple as its presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered to be a celibate. A number of petitions had challenged the restrictions on the entry of women.
Justice Misra, who retires as Chief Justice of India on 2 October, who was delivering another in a series of landmark rulings in his last week as top judge, also said, "Lord Ayappa is not a separate denomination."
Yesterday, the Supreme Court had scrapped the adultery law saying it went against gender justice.
The head priest of Sabarimala, Kandaru Rajeevaru, said: "We are disappointed but accept the Supreme Court verdict on women entry."
During the hearings, the Travancore Devaswom Board which runs the over 800-year-old Lord Ayyappa temple, had told the court that the ban is not anti-women and is voluntarily accepted by them. But the top court underlined that the all customary or religious practices such as a ban on entry of women had to conform to constitutional principles.
The board had also urged the top court to steer clear of sitting in judgment on sensitive religious matters.
We will go for a review petition after getting support from other religious heads: Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president A Padmakumar said on the Supreme Court verdict allowing entry of all women in Kerala’s Sabarimala temple.
The Kerala government, which has been changing its stand on the temple ban, had told the Supreme Court in July that it favoured the entry of women.