Kerala defends restrictions on women at Sabarimala

State govt says in matters of religion, priests' opinion is final

Kerala defends restrictions on women at Sabarimala
The Kerala government on Friday defended before the Supreme Court the restriction imposed on entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age in famous Sabarimala temple.

The state government said rituals, ceremonies and modes of worship are exclusive matters of religion protected under the Constitution.

It said the Sabarimala temple is unique as it allowed entry of devotees from different faiths, including Muslims, so the view taken by the priests is final.

Ahead of Assembly polls, the Congress-led UDF government made a volte face from its earlier position in 2007 wherein the efficacy of the established rituals was questioned by it.

In a fresh affidavit following the apex court’s direction, the state government said Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution guaranteed every person and community the right and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion and manage its affairs.

In the context of Sabarimala, the administration vests with the Travancore Devaswom Board under the provisions of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950. “Under the Act, there is a statutory duty cast on the board to arrange worship in temples in accordance with the usage. Therefore, in matters of religion, it is the opinion of the priests that is final,” it said.

Maintaining that the restriction of women between the age of 10 and 50 (menstrual women) has been prevailing in Sabarimala from time immemorial, the state government said, adding “This is in keeping the unique “pratishta sangalp” or idol concept of the temple.”

The state government also cited statement made by the thantris (priests) that since the deity is in the form of a ‘Naisthik Bramachari’, it is, therefore, believed that young women should not offer worship in the temple. Even the slightest deviation from celibacy and austerity observed by the deity should not be caused by the presence of such women,” it added. It further maintained that the state government was duty bound to the right to practice religion of 3.5 to 4 crore devotees visiting Sabarimala temple every year.

“Sabarimala temple is so unique that it allows all type of devotees in its precincts irrespective of their religion. It is also unique in as much as it has special shrine in its premises for a holy man from Islamic faith. It is only paying obeisance before Vavar Swami that the devotees enter the shrine of Lord Ayyappa,” the state government said. 

The affidavit filed by chief secretary Jiji Thomos sought to change the state government's stand wherein it had on November 13, 2007 “erroneously” taken the decision to support the petition filed by Indian Young Lawyers Association and others questioning the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, allowing the temple to follow its customs.

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