New Delhi: A five-judge Supreme Court bench, led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Dipak Misra on Friday allowed the entry of women into the Ayyappa Temple at the Sabrimala in Kerala. Women in the age group of 10-50 years were not allowed to enter the temple.
The bench comprises Justices R. F. Nariman, A. M. Khanwilkar, D. Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. “Devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination,” said the apex court. Religion is a way of life, basically to link life with divinity, the SC added.
CJI Misra said the patriarchal notion cannot be allowed to trump equality in devotion. “Subversion of women’s rights under the garb of a physiological phenomenon cannot be allowed,” he added.
The devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination. They are Hindus, the CJI said. “The right to worship is given to all the devotees and there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Barring women in the age group of 10-50 is not in consonance with Constitutional principles and is not backed by Article 26,” the CJI said, making a landmark judgment.
Justice Chandrachud said treating women as children of a lesser God is unconstitutional. “Any custom or religious practice, if it violates the dignity of women by denying them entry because of her physiology is unconstitutional,” he said.
Reacting to the verdict, Travancore Devaswom Board president, A. Padmakumar, said they would go in for a review petition after getting support from other religious heads.
Justice Indu Malhotra said rationality cannot be invoked by the court to examine the religious practice.
In 1991, the Kerala High Court had upheld an age-old restriction on women of a certain age group entering the temple.
After 17 years, on July 28, 2006, a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning the ban received Kerala’s LDF government’s support and an affidavit was filed. Later, in 2016, the PIL filed with the SC contended that denying women’s entry in the temple violated constitutional guarantees. The government, favouring women’s entry, filed an affidavit to the effect.
In October 2017, the apex court referred the matter to a Constitution bench, the verdict of which was announced today. In July, the Kerala government stated to the SC that it favours women’s entry and that the temple does not belong to a religious denomination. “Therefore, the Constitutional right to manage religious affairs (Article 26) cannot be invoked to defend the ban,” it informed.
The respondents in the case, total 24 in number, included Travancore Devasom Board, Chief Thantri of Sabrimala, Nair Service Society, Sabrimala Custom Protection Forum and Rahul Easwar.