The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Travancore Devaswom Board to explain the basis on which it associates menstruation with the purity of women.
“Can a biological phenomenon be condition precedent for discrimination?” a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra asked the Sabarimala temple management that contended the ban on entry of women between 10 and 50 years was because they cannot maintain purity for 41 days.
“Do you to mean to say that menstruation is associated with purity of women? You are making distinction based on purity... Now the question is whether the Constitutional principles allow this,” the bench said. It told the board’s counsel that the test of austere practice applied to men should be the same for women.
The top court is examining the age-old practice under which women in the menstrual age are barred from entering the Sabarimala temple. A PIL has challenged it on the ground that it violates a woman’s constitutional right to pray. The temple board said that the ban was not discrimininatory but based on “reasonable classification”.
“There is no gender discrimination. There is a reasonable classification by which a certain class of women is excluded,” senior advocate KK Venugopal, representing the board, told court.
Venugopal said that Sabarimala could not be compared to a Shani temple where women are banned in totality. He said that both women and men are allowed entry into Sabarimala and, hence, there is no case of gender discrimination. Only due to an age-old custom are women of a particular age group not allowed.
The arguments remained inconclusive and will resume on May 2.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, assisting the court in the case, strongly opposed the tradition. He argued that it was a derogatory practice to keep women away and prevent them from worshipping the deity in the shrine due to their biology. Ramachandra said that denying women the right to enter and pray in the temple could not be justified on the basis of traditions.