SC says lawyer can’t drop plea against Sabarimala practice

  • Bhadra Sinha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 18, 2016 22:23 IST
Police help devotees seeking a glimpse of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala in this file photo. (PTI)

The Supreme Court directed the Delhi police commissioner on Monday to continue providing police protection to advocate Naushad Ahmed Khan, whose organisation had filed a PIL challenging the age-old practice that bars women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala.

Khan had reportedly received over 500 threat calls from people who wanted the PIL withdrawn.

A bench headed by justice Dipak Misra directed police chief BS Bassi to ensure that no harm was caused to Khan, and also sought an action-taken report on the case. The bench, however, refused to place any curbs on the social media after the advocate claimed that a video accusing him of interfering with age-old Hindu customs due to his Islamic faith was doing the rounds on the Internet.

“We don’t control the social media, and we don’t intend to,” justice Misra said. Khan heads the Indian Young Lawyers’s Association (IYLA), which has challenged the restriction on women in Sabrimala through its general secretary Bhakti Pasrija.

Khan clarified that he had not filed the petition, but was being targeted just because of his association with the IYLA. The bench said in its order that if his allegation of having received over 500 threats were true, it would create a serious dent in the democratic polity.

Posting the matter to February 8, the court noted that the callers had tried to give the case a communal colour just because Khan – who hadn’t even filed the petition – happened to be a Muslim. “Since some women advocates were also members this association, and were not happy with this practice at Sabarimala Temple, they filed the PIL,” it said.

Last week, Khan had told the court that he wanted to withdraw the PIL filed by his organisation because he was receiving threat calls. However, his request was not entertained. “Once a public interest litigation is filed and entertained, you cannot withdraw it,” the top court said.

The bench had said that it may appoint an amicus curiae to assist the court on the PIL. The apex court had earlier said that while the practice of prohibiting women devotees of a certain age group from entering temples was unconstitutional, such a restriction could only be justified on the grounds of religion.

The 10-year-old petition was opposed by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which has sought its dismissal on the grounds that the Congress-led Kerala government supported the temple’s stand.

The Madras high court had upheld the prohibition in 1991. Last year, the board’s chairman stirred up a hornet’s nest when he said that women can be allowed into the temple only after a machine capable of detecting their “purity” is invented.

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