Women allowed to enter Sabarimala temple

Saturday, 29 Sep, 2018

The Supreme Court's verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, was "disappointing", but the shrine board will accept it, head priest Kandararu Rajeevarau said.

The precedent could affect hundreds of temples across India that now do not allow women for reasons ranging from issues around "purity" to them being barred when a guru or senior priest is in residence.

Supporting the case from the temple officials, Travancore Devaswom Board's end, Senior lawyer AM Singhvi mentioned that the practice of not allowing women of the particular mentioned age is because of Lord Ayyappa being a "Naishtika Brahmacharya" (celibate for life).

Besides Chief Justice Dipak Misra who headed the constitution bench, other judges on the bench were Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra. Misra and Khanwilkar condemned societal attitudes centered around patriarchal mindset and remarked, "Faith and religion do not countenance discrimination but religious practices are sometimes seen as perpetuating patriarchy thereby negating the basic tenets of faith and of gender equality and rights".

Justice Malhotra also said right to equality conflicts with right to worship of devotees of Lord Ayyappa.

Sabarimala temple's rule was made from the still widely-held belief in India that menstruating women are "impure". It would compel the Court to undertake judicial review under Article 14 to delineate the rationality of the religious beliefs or practises, which would be outside the ken of the Courts.

Pronouncing the verdict, CJI Misra read out the judgment for himself and Justice Khanwilkar and said a woman is not lesser or inferior to a man, and that patriarchy of religion can not be permitted to trump over faith. Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who was asked to assist the top court, supported the petitioners.

"The judgement breaks the taboo and lift the shame [that menstruating women face]" she said. The operators of a temple in Rajasthan state believe Hindu god Kartikeya curses women who enter the temple, instead of blessing them. Lord Ayyappa is not a separate denomination. She added the issue is not limited to Sabarimala only, but it will have far reaching implications for other places of worship. Sabarimala temple had banned the entry of women due to the nature of the deity and customs.

In a separate judgement, Justice Chandrachud said that religion can not be used as a cover to deny rights of worship to women and it is against human dignity. "Prohibition can't be regarded as an essential component of religion", said the judges' ruling.

The Kerala High Court had earlier upheld Rule 3 (b).

Supreme Court allows women of all age groups to enter the temple, thus ending the age-old restriction. According to the temple's website, the act of crossing these 18 steps is so sacred that no pilgrim can climb them without undertaking a rigorous 41-day fast.