Kerala's Left Democratic Front (LDF) government has sought the Supreme Court's permission to allow all women to enter the Sabarimala temple where traditionally those aged between 10-50 are not permitted.
The LDF government, which has been battling Hindu religious leaders on an issue it labels as "discrimination towards women", said in an affidavit filed in the apex court on Wednesday that the denial of entry was a violation of fundamental rights.
According to state Devaswom Minister G Sudhakaran, the state wanted to ensure equality. "We are very clear that there cannot be any discrimination," he told IANS in Thiruvananthapuram.
The minister said the state would abide by the direction of the apex court.
The state is seeking an "appropriate commission consisting of eminent scholars with authentic knowledge in Hinduism and reputed and incorrupt social reformers to submit suggestions and views on the issue".
The 15-page affidavit, part of a petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association, states that the government was "duty bound" to protect the fundamental right of citizens irrespective of caste, creed, race, sex and religion.
"All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the constitution gives right to worship to everyone equally. Hence it is not fair to deny a section of women from entering Sabarimala temple and worship.
"Those who are physically able to come to Sabarimala are to be permitted to visit the temple and worship," the affidavit said.
The temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa and located in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district, bars entry of women between the ages 10 and 50 - or those in menstruating age.
The government has pointed out in its plea that the temple used to be visited by women earlier. It denied the argument of the Travancore Devaswom Board - the body that governs the temple - that women entering the premises would create a law and order problem and lead to "illegal activities".
"If that fear is correct, this can be solved by fixing separate seasons for women for their entry at Sabarimala and worship," it said.
"It would be violation of constitutional rights if women are denied entry to Sabarimala. Sasthavu (the deity) is not an anti-woman deity," the affidavit said.
"In the Ashtothara Sathaka of Sasthavu, it is believed that Sasthavu had two wives Poorna and Pushkala and a son names Sathyakan," it said, adding that Indian tradition respects women.
The state government argued that Kerala had way back in 1936 issued the famous temple entry proclamation, allowing everyone irrespective of caste to enter temples.
The affidavit also clarified that the state government did not plan new legislation on the subject. In an earlier decision, the Kerala High Court had upheld the ban on women.