The Supreme Court on Monday termed as unconstitutional the practice of prohibiting women devotees from entering temples, contending such a restriction could be justified on the grounds of religion.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra questioned the Sabarimala temple board’s decision to deny entry to women devotees aged between 10 to 50 years.
“The Constitution bars discrimination on the basis of sex. Such a prohibition (not to allow women devotees) is unconstitutional,” the bench said during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) asking the court to lift the ban.
The court fixed February 8 to hear the larger constitutional right of women’s entry into certain temples where it is barred due to local tradition or age-old custom.
The 10-year-old petition filed by Young Lawyers Association of India has faulted the Travancore Devaswom Board’s policy to not allow women inside the temple after they attain puberty. Post-menopausal women, however, are allowed.
The Madras high court had, in 1991, upheld the prohibition. In 2015, the board’s chairman had stirred up a hornet’s nest when he said women should be allowed in the temple only after a machine to detect their purity is invented.
“A temple can’t prohibit entry except on the basis of religion. We cannot understand the logic behind this prohibition. Who knows what happened 1,500 years ago,” the bench said when someone asserted it was a centuries-old practice. It also said women had the right to decide whether they wanted to enter the temple precincts or not. “But nobody can stop them,” the court remarked.
On behalf of the board, senior advocate KK Venugopal and counsel Bina Madhavan opposed the PIL. They sought its dismissal on the grounds that the Congress-led Kerala government supported the temple’s stand.