Sabarimala case referred to seven-judge bench: 5 key takeaways from today’s verdict

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Updated: November 14, 2019 12:49:45 PM

The Supreme Court said that the seven-judge bench will examine its 2018 judgment to lift the ban on entry of women of all age groups inside the Lord Ayappa temple in Kerala.

sabarimala temple newsDevotees wait in queues inside the premises of the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state of Kerala. )File Photo. REUTERS)

The Supreme Court on Thursday referred the Sabarimala temple case to a larger bench. The seven-judge bench will examine the 2018 judgment to lift the ban on entry of women of all age groups inside the Lord Ayappa temple in Kerala. The judgment on the review pleas was delivered by the Constitution bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi with a 3:2 majority. The bench comprising Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra observed that restrictions on women inside the religious places were not limited to the Sabarimala, but was was applicable to other religions as well. The verdict comes just a few days before CJI Ranjan Gogoi retires from office.

The previous judgment was pronounced by a bench led by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. The verdict today means that the issue of allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple remains unsettled. There is also little clarity if today’s order directs a stay on the entry of women of all age groups into the temple, something the Supreme Court had allowed in its 2018 verdict.

Five key takeaways from Supreme Court’s verdict:

Not just Hindus

The CJI-headed bench observed that the issue of entry of women into places of worship is not limited to the Hindu community alone. The top court referred to Muslims and Parsis in particular to expand the ambit of the questions before the larger bench when it sits to decide the case. The top court said that the larger bench will also have to deliberate upon restrictions on women of other religions from entering religious places. Reading the verdict on behalf of himself, Justices AM Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra, the CJI said, “Larger bench will decide all such religious issues relating to Sabarimala, entry of women in mosques and practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.”

Common policy on religious places

CJI Ranjan Gogoi said that the endeavour of the petitioners was to revive debate on religion and faith. He said that the Supreme Court should evolve a common policy on religious places like Sabarimala. He also referred to ban on women into mosques.

No adverse comment on 2018 judgment

The Constitution bench on Thursday didn’t made any adverse comment against its own September 2018 judgment when it had lifted the ban on the entry of women of all age groups inside the famed shrine. The 2018 judgment was delivered by then CJI headed Dipak Misra. Other Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra were part of the bench.

No clarity on entry of women

The verdict did not say anything with regard to the entry of women inside the shrine. Clarity is still awaited whether its September 2018 verdict stands or it has been stayed. When the review petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, though the court decided to admit the pleas, it didn’t stay the previous decision to lift the ban on women. A detailed order on the top court’s website should bring clarity on the matter.

What next in Sabarimala?

The split decision on the matter came on as many as 65 petitions including 56 review petitions and four fresh writ petitions and five transfer pleas. It comes just ahead of the start of two-month long festival at Sabarimala temple that kicks off on Sunday. It will end on January 21. Though the religious groups have welcomed the SC’s decision, the Kerala Police said that elaborate security arrangements are in place for the devotees. Last festival, Kerala Police had tried best to see that the verdict was adhered to in letter and spirit. Despite all the confusion, on January 2 this year, two women managed to enter the temple and pray with the support of the police.

The Supreme Court had on September 28 last year ruled that women between the age of 10 and 50 can’t be prevented from entering the Sabarimala temple. The majority verdict of 4:1 held that the centuries-old practice to prevent women from offering prayers at the Ayyappa shrine was illegal and unconstitutional.

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