In a landmark majority verdict, the Supreme Court on Friday, said that all women can enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, breaking the temple’s age-old tradition of restricting menstruating women from entering its premises.
Till now entry of women between the age of 10 and 50, who were considered ‘impure’, was banned.
The five-judge bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra with Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra pronounced the verdict, with Malhotra dissenting.
CJI Dipak Misra, who wrote the judgment on behalf of himself and Justice Khanwilkar said
- A woman is not inferior to a man
- Women have been treated with discrimination for long. Religion is a way of life to realise dignity and identity, guaranteed under Article 25(1) of the Constitution, regardless of gender or age and a dualistic approach results in indignity to women.
- Patriarchal rules have to change.
- Patriarchy in religion cannot be allowed to trump right to pray and practise religion.
- Any rule based on biological characteristics cannot pass muster of constitutional test.
- The Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, violate the right of Hindu women to practice religion.
- The practice of age restrictions on women entry to Sabarimala temple cannot be treated as essential practice
- Ayyappa devotees do no constitute a separate religious denomination
Justice Rohinton Nariman concured with CJI Dipak Misra
- The custom of barring women is violative of Article 25(1). Rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules,1965 struck down by Justice Nariman. Fundamental Rights under PART III of Constitution is essential for transformation of a society.
- Women’s rights would be meaningless if they are not allowed entry to temples on the biological ground of menstruation.
Justice Chandrachud said
- Religion cannot be cover to deny women right to worship. To treat women as children of lesser God is to blink at Constitutional morality.
- Birthmarks and physiology are not the basis to deny constitutional entitlements
- Not allowing a woman to enter because they are of procreating age is ‘derogatory’ to them. “To exclude women of the age group 10-50 from the temple is to deny dignity to women. To suggest that women cannot undertake the 41-day vratham is to stereotype them,” he said.
Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman and dissenting judge in the 4:1 verdict said
- Issues of deep religious sentiments should not see the Court’s interference
- Court should not interfere unless if there is any aggrieved person from that section or religion
- Sabarimala shrine and the deity is protected by Article 25 of Constitution of India. “Notion of rationality should not be seen in matters of religion,” she added.
- What constitutes essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide, not for the court. India is a diverse country. Constitutional morality would allow all to practise their beliefs. The court should not interfere unless if there is any aggrieved person from that section or religion.”
- The petition does not deserve to be entertained
After the verdict The Travancore Devaswom Board has said that they will file a review petition against the Supreme Court’s verdict.
“We will go for a review petition after getting support from other religious heads,” he said.
Sabarimala Tantri Kantararu Rajeevaru expressed disappointment at the verdict but said his family will abide by the apex court’s ruling. The Pandalam royal family, which is custodian of the temple and associated with rituals, too called the verdict disappointing.
A clutch of petitions had challenged the ban, which was upheld by the Kerala High Court. The HC had ruled that only the ‘tantri (priest)’ was empowered to decide on traditions. The petitioners, including Indian Young Lawyers Association and Happy to Bleed, argued in court that the tradition is discriminatory in nature and stigmatised women, and that women should be allowed to pray at the place of their choice.
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