SC opens Sabarimala temple door to women

The Sabarimala temple.

The apex court on Friday allowed the entry of women of all ages to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, saying the right to practise one’s religion guaranteed under the Constitution does not discriminate on the grounds of gender and physiological factors.

The top court said any relationship with the ‘creator’ is a transcendental one crossing all socially-created artificial barriers, and patriarchy in religion cannot be permitted to trump over the element of pure devotion.

The five-judge Constitution bench, by a majority judgement of 4:1, opened the door of the famous Lord Ayyappa temple to all women, particularly of 10-50 years of age, hitherto barred on grounds that menstruating women are not pure.

“The subversion and repression of women under the garb of biological or physiological factors cannot be given the seal of legitimacy. Any rule based on discrimination or segregation of women pertaining to biological characteristics is not only unfounded, indefensible and implausible but can also never pass the muster of constitutionality,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, in the judgement authored on behalf of himself and Justice A M Khanwilkar.

He held that the devotees of Lord Ayyappa are just Hindus and do not constitute a separate religious denomination. The exclusionary custom cannot be allowed as an essential practice of Hindu religion protected under Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs) of the Constitution.

“By allowing women’s entry for offering prayers, it cannot be imagined that the nature of Hindu religion would be fundamentally altered or changed in any manner,” the CJI said.

Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman judge on the bench, however, dissented saying the restriction on the entry of women to the temple is based on the unique characteristic of the deity, a celibate God, and not founded on any social exclusion.

She sounded a note of caution saying in a pluralistic society of diverse faiths, beliefs and traditions, to entertain PILs challenging religious practises followed by any group, sect or denomination, could cause serious damage to the constitutional and secular fabric of this country.

In his concurring judgement with the majority view, Justice R F Nariman, however, said the custom allegedly constituting an essential part of religion, can be said to be violative of their rights under Article 25 (freedom to practise religion). He also noted that Hindus of all kinds, Muslims, Christians etc, visited the temple as worshippers without, in any manner, ceasing to be members of their respective faiths.

Justice D Y Chandrachud, in his judgement, said the social exclusion of women, based on menstrual status, was a form of untouchability which is an anathema to constitutional values.

“Notions of ‘purity and pollution’, which stigmatise individuals, have no place in a constitutional order. The quest for equality is denuded of its content if practices that exclude women are treated to be acceptable. The Constitution cannot allow practices, irrespective of their source, which are derogatory to women,” he said.

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SC opens Sabarimala temple door to women

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