The Kerala government told the Supreme Court on Monday it was in favour of allowing all women inside the Sabarimala temple, reversing its earlier stand that defended the entry ban.
Women aged between 10 and 50 (menstrual age) are not allowed in the famous Sabarimala Ayyappa temple because the deity is celibate (Naisthik Brahmachari).
The Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the temple is defending the practice of keeping out women in that age group as part of its age-old tradition.
The Kerala government, too, had filed an affidavit in the court on July 11 favouring the ban. The ruling CPI(M), however, took a U-turn the next day, saying it would submit a fresh affidavit seeking entry for women of all ages.
“We want women of all ages to be allowed in Sabarimala... If there is a difficulty in allowing women of all ages, the Travancore Devaswom Board should bring it to the notice of the court,” party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said.
The case, which will be heard on February 20, is being watched closely as the court in earlier hearings had said tradition can’t trump the Constitution and discriminatory customs pose a danger to gender equality.
“Can a biological phenomenon be ground for discrimination?” a bench headed by justice Dipak Misra had earlier asked temple management that contended the ban on entry of women was because they cannot maintain purity for 41 days — the duration of the pilgrimage. “You are making distinction based on purity... Now the question is whether the Constitutional principles allow this?” the bench had said. It told the board that the tests of austere applied for men should be the same for women.
“In Hindu religion, there is no denomination of a Hindu male or female. A Hindu is a Hindu,” the special three-judge bench headed by justice Misra had said, stressing on gender equality.
The court is hearing a public interest litigation challenging the decades-old tradition of keeping women out of one of the holiest Hindu shrines, which even allows in non-Hindus.
Late last year, scores of women took to social media joining #happytobleed campaign after the temple head said he would allow women if there was a machine to check if they were menstruating.
The ban violated her clients’ right to practise religion that included right of entry and worshipping the Lord, the petitioner contended.