Today, the Supreme Court has referred the Sabarimala case to the Constitution Bench after apex court judges raised several questions. It was expected that the apex court is likely to announce the verdict today on whether women can enter the Sabarimala Temple. Earlier this year in February, the apex court reserved an order while referring the case to a Constitution bench.
Wondering what this dispute is all about and why it is gathering steam among sections of women activists?
Sabarimala, one of Kerala’s most renowned temples which has Lord Ayappa as the presiding deity, does not allow menstruating women to enter the temple. This is the main reason for the dispute as women activists have questioned this as a clear practice of gender discrimination.
The temple’s restriction on menstruating women has been a bone of contention in recent times, raising legal questions about women’s right to pray and right to equality, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India.Article 14 of the Constitution of India guarantees that the state cannot deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of the law. Article 15 of the Constitution places a clear constitutional obligation on the state to not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth.
The earlier UDF government’s affidavit before the Supreme Court had supported the temple’s tradition that the deity’s form is that of a Naisthak Bramhachari who observes celibacy and therefore, young women should not worship in the temple. In November last year, after the Left government took charge in Kerala, there was a U-turn by the state government from its earlier stance and the affidavit stated that it was ready to allow women of all ages to enter Sabarimala. But first, take a step back and understand what makes Sabarimala a unique place of worship in Kerala.
In 1991, a Kerala High Court Bench comprising of Justices K. Paripoornan and KB Marar had held that the restriction on young women by the Travancore Devaswom Board is not violative of the Constitution and nor was it violative of the provisions of the Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965. The rationale of the judgment is that the prohibition was only regarding a particular age group of women and not all women.
Further, the Kerala High Court had examined Ravi Varma Raja of the royal family of Pandalam, to which the Sabarimala temple belongs, and High Court verdict referred to their consistency with the temple tradition that the presiding deity is worshipped as a ‘Naisthik Bramhachari.’ However, about 25 years after the Kerala High Court judgment, the Supreme Court has questioned the logic and examined the reason for the restriction on women’s entry into Sabarimala temple. Almost every year, it is reported that 3.5 to 4 crore devotees visit the shrine during the ‘Mandalam’ period that starts in November till January.