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Sabarimala board likely to support entry of women in Kerala temple

In the Supreme Court, the Travancore Devaswom Board had said that women in the 10-50 age group were barred from entry to the temple because they could not observe the required 41-day fast.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2018 22:07 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Sabarimala,Sabarimala Ayyappa Swamy,Young Lawyers Association
The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that women have the constitutional right to enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala and pray like men without being discriminated against. (PTI File Photo)

The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that administers the hilltop shrine in Sabarimala is likely to submit a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court supporting the entry of women of all ages in the temple.

When the CPI(M)-led state government supported the move to open temple doors for women, the TDB took a different position in the apex court on Thursday, saying women in 10-50 age group were barred because they “can’t observe the 41-day fast”. The TDB’s position has left many red-faced with state devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran questioning the board’s stance.

“What the counsel told the court is the decision of the former members of the board. The TDB is yet to take decision on it. We will have a meeting soon and inform the court accordingly,” said TDB president A Padmakumar.

He said the board will also consult Pandalam royal family (erstwhile custodian of the temple) and the tantri’s (supreme priest) family. Both are opposing any move to dilute the age-old custom of the temple.

“Different temples have different customs. In Sabarimala there is no discrimination, there are some restrictions. It is because of the nature of the deity,” Rahul Eswar, the grandson of the tantri, said

Devaswom commissioner N Vasu also distanced from the stand taken by the counsel in the court. “The court is yet to hear the new board. We will have a meeting soon and take an appropriate decision,” he said.

Earlier, the top court had criticised the state government saying it had changed its position four times. Before that, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) regime had supported the status quo.

Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the temple board, said the basis of the temple practice was related to the celibate form of the deity, “naishtika brahamchari” (eternal celibate).

He said women of procreating age can’t be permitted because they can’t observe the 41-day penance before the pilgrimage. He said if the devotees believe in the in the deity of Sabarimala (Lord Ayyappa), they must respect the tradition of the temple and observe its practices.

Pilgrimage to Sabarimala situated in Western Ghats mountain ranges in Pathanamthitta district is unique in many ways. A devotee has to observe 41 days’ fast abstaining from all worldly pleasures followed by a rigorous trek through forests. Lord Ayyappa’s favourite disciple is a Muslim saint ‘Vavar Swami’ and devotees will have to worship first at his mosque before proceeding to the hilltop.

Women of productive age are allowed only till Pambha, the base river camp before a 5-km arduous trek to the hill shrine begins. Women cops are employed in Pambha in large numbers to screen devotees. If they become suspicious, women devotees will have to furnish proof to verify their age.

The restriction on women was first challenged in Kerala High Court which ruled in 1991 that it was part of an age-old tradition and not discriminatory under Constitution.

In 2006 the Indian Young Lawyers Association had filed a PIL in Supreme Court challenging the temple practice saying it was discriminatory in nature and against gender justice. The contentious issue is pending before the court for 12 years.

Last year a section of women devotees had started a campaign on social media called “Can wait till 50.” Soon it turned a battle between “can wait” and “can’t wait.”

“Can wait” campaign was launched by four women saying they were ready to wait till they attain 50 years to enter the temple. They blamed a section of non-believers and atheists for raking up a controversy.

First Published: Jul 21, 2018 21:56 IST