Sabarimala Temple: India's Supreme Court lifts ban on women entering shrine

Sabarimala temple case verdict

Supreme Court opens Sabarimala Temple gates to women of all ages

The landmark verdict was given by a five-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

It was held that Sabarimala temple can not claim status of a religious denomination to claim rights under Article 26 of the Constitution.Three things were stated as necessary in order to establish that a particular temple belongs to a religious denomination - the temple must consist of persons who have a common faith, a common organization, and are designated by a distinct name, as held in S.P. Mittal v. Union of India and Ors. While Justices Chandrachud and Nariman wrote a concurring judgment.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, counsel appearing for the Travancore Devaswom Board, had justified the restriction and said the ban had a "historical origin" as the entry of women and girls of menstruating age was antithetical to the "Naishtika Brahmachari" (celibate) nature of the deity.

Justice Malhotra, the lone woman judge in the bench, passed a dissenting judgement and said that issues which have deep religious connotation should not be tinkered with to maintain secular atmosphere in the country.

Dissenting judge Malhotra said the notions of rationality and logic can not be imported for religious practices and with regards to the concept of discrimination, equality can not be viewed in isolation as it needs to be balanced with the freedom to practice religion.

Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra, while reading the judgement said that Law and Society are tasked with the responsibility of acting as equalizers and devotion can not be subjected to discrimination.

Religion is a way of life basically to link life with diversity.

Jayamala, who is the minister for Women and Child Development and Empowerment in Karnataka, said she welcomed the Supreme Court's decision.

The temple management had contended in court that they are allowed to frame the rules and that the state should not interfere since an Ayyappa devotee form a denomination. They added that it was prejudiced against women and their right to worship.

The Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala region of Kerala happens to be one of the most famous pilgrimage sites for Hindus in India.

While most Hindu temples don't allow women to enter when they are menstruating, the temple, commonly known as Sabarimala, was one of a few that did not allow any woman of menstruating age.

The top court, while pronouncing the judgement, said the discrimination of women based on biological factors can not be constitutionally sustainable.

Referring to the antiquity of practice, the court was told that the temple could invoke Article 25 (1) to protect the practice, and since its management was entrusted to a board by a statute, it was duty-bound to protect a practice based on religious belief.

She added, "Present judgement won't be limited to Sabarimala, it will have wide ramifications".

What is essential practise in a religion is for the religion to decide. India was a land of diverse faiths. The one judge who opposed the view is interestingly a female judge.

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