Sabarimala Review Petition Hearing: Legal implications for pilgrims and the state

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New Delhi | Updated: November 14, 2018 1:47:40 PM

Sabarimala Review Petition Hearing: Speaking to FE Online, Mr. N. Venkataraman, Senior Advocate, said, "This is a historic order by the Supreme Court.

Sabarimala Review Petition Hearing: From a legal perspective, it seems too early to view the order as a sign of victory as the state government has several options to consider in the coming days.

The Supreme Court, in its order on Tuesday, has given the go-ahead to review all 49 petitions in open court in connection with the Sabarimala temple verdict pertaining to the exclusion of women belonging to a specific age group. Following the order, mixed reactions flooded social media timelines. Across the state, many Ayyappa devotees heaved a sigh of relief and the Thantri family summed up the general mood of the protesting Ayyappa devotees, by terming it as “Lord Ayyappa’s victory”. From a legal perspective, it seems too early to view the order as a sign of victory as the state government has several options to consider in the coming days.

Speaking to FE Online, Mr. N. Venkataraman, Senior Advocate, said, “This is a historic order by the Supreme Court. The order is in two parts. The first part of the order says that all review petitions are allowed to be heard in an open court. This means that all review applicants will be heard by the court. It will be a full fledged open court hearing and the whole decision may be revisited. It is open to the parties to argue that this should go to a larger Bench for legal reasons or the decision taken by the court at the first instance requires a review and needs to change its view. It is open to the parties to contend as though the matter is to be heard fresh. No doubts, this is a historic order.”

The apex court order also indicates clearly that there is no stay on the five-Judge Constitution bench verdict.

“I wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the review petitions,” Ms. Mahalakshmi Pavani, Senior Advocate and President, Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association told FE Online.

Given that the Mandalam season will be in full swing at the Sabarimala temple, what are the legal implications for the state government, the women who want to visit the temple based on the September 28 verdict and the other stakeholders who oppose their entry?

Local reports say that more than 3700 persons were arrested so far and 546 cases have been registered in connection with the protests against women’s entry at the shrine. Not to forget, the most sacred day for Ayyappa devotees is the ‘Makaravillakku’ which falls on January 14, 2019.

“Since the state has not come in review, it is for the state to implement the order or take a diplomatic stand. I feel that the will of the Ayyappa devotees will prevail and maybe the state will file a review,” Ms. Mahalakshmi Pavani, Senior Advocate and President, Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association told FE Online.

The LDF-led Kerala government has called for an all party meeting on November 15 to discuss various aspects pertaining to the Sabarimala temple.

“The second part of the order shows that there is no stay. Since time immemorial, there has been a practice in place at the shrine. The temple has opened twice and in spite of the judgment, women did not enter. If things go out of control, an interim order or direction can always be changed and modified by the same court. Courts have the powers to do this. It is more so in the case of the Supreme Court. We hope that such untoward incidents will not happen, forcing the court to revisit the second part of the order,” Mr. N. Venkataraman explained to FE Online.

 

The 49 review petitions are most likely to highlight the legal points from Justice Indu Malhotra’s dissenting judgment, where the learned judge has pointed out that no woman devotee has approached the court, challenging the exclusion principle.

The dissenting judgment also states that not a single precedent has been shown by the petitioners to prove that there is a link between the practice of untouchability and the exclusion of women belonging to a specific age group, given that historically, women have never been discriminated against as a class.

[READ: Legal Precedents and Gray Areas on Essential Practices in Temple Worship]

The review petitions are also likely to rely upon Justice R.F. Nariman’s concurring judgment, pertaining to the aspect of “purity” being integral to religion and in this case, various aspects on the ‘Essential Practices test’, which finds no significant mention in Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s concurring judgment nor in the detailed interpretation on ‘Constitutional morality’.

The Sabarimala case is Kerala’s most debated and discussed issue and it pertains to the faith of 20 million Ayyappa devotees who visit the shrine every year.

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