Ban on women at Sabarimala goes to Constitution bench

SC to see violation of equality rights

Ban on women at Sabarimala goes to Constitution bench
The Supreme Court on Friday referred to the Constitution bench to decide if the ban on entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age to Kerala’s historic Sabarimala temple violated their fundamental right to equality and discriminated against them.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan framed legal questions on a PIL filed by Indian Young Lawyers Association and others.

Among the issues are if the practice of excluding such women constituted an “essential religious practice” protected under Article 25 of the Constitution and if a religious institution can assert a claim in that regard under the umbrella of right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion. The five-judge bench would also consider if the exclusionary practice, based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender, was violative of ‘morality’ as used in Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.

The court would also examine whether Lord Ayyappa Temple has a denominational character.

And, if so, is it permissible on the part of a ‘religious denomination’ managed by a statutory board and financed out of Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to indulge in such practices violating constitutional principles.

The PIL sought direction to the Kerala government, Dewaswom Board of Travancore, chief thanthri (priest) to ensure entry of female devotees between the age group of 10 and 50 at the Lord Ayappa Temple at Sabarimala.

The management of the temple had claimed that the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years was because they cannot maintain “purity” on account of menstruation.
 Won't let Sabarimala become Thailand: TDB chief
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president Prayar Gopalakrishnan said on Friday that even if courts allow the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple, "honourable" women would not enter the temple, DHNS reports from Thiruvananthapuram.

The TDB, which manages the temple, has repeatedly opposed moves to effect changes to temple customs, and have stated that women aged between 10 and 50 years should not be allowed to enter the temple.

Gopalakrishnan told reporters that Sabarimala would not be allowed to become Thailand.

"These women (if allowed entry to the temple), will be walking through the jungle without much security. Can you imagine what will happen? Should Sabarimala be made Thailand?" he said.

Responding to a question on whether security was his only concern, Gopalakrishnan said the safety of the woman pilgrims is only one of the issues.

"On the one side, there is the issue of security. On the other, there are (restrictions stipulated by) rituals," the TDB president said.

Gopalakrishnan is no stranger to controversy, specifically with regard to entry of women in Sabarimala.

In 2015, he had said the issue could be discussed only after a machine is invented to check women to determine whether it is "appropriate" (if they are menstruating or not) for them to enter the temple.

His statement triggered nation-wide outrage and an aggressive social media campaign by women, titled 'Happy to Bleed'.
Women in Sabarimala: govt welcomes SC decision
The CPM-led Kerala Government on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to refer the petitions challenging a ban on the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years at the Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala to a Constitution Bench.

Minister for Devaswom Kadakampally Surendran said the state government had already made its stand on the matter clear in the Supreme Court.

He said no progressive government would support a gender-based ban and that customs and rituals have in the past been subjected to change.

The minister pointed to Kerala's "revolutionary" appointment of people from non-Brahmin communities as temple priests as an example.

"I'm sure the society will approach this issue also positively and we will have an amicable solution," Surendran said.

The CPM-led Left Democratic Front government had, in December 2016, favoured entry to the temple for women of all ages.

In contrast, the previous Congress-led government maintained that temple customs should not be tampered with, a stand endorsed by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the temple.
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