Supreme Court refers entry of women to Sabarimala to larger bench
Sabarimala Temple Case Verdict: The Supreme Court has decided to set up a 7-judge bench to look at the entire gamut of issues relating to practices specific to various religious communities.Updated: Nov 14, 2019 14:47 IST
The Supreme Court on Thursday kept the doors of Sabarimala temple open to women for now but decided to set up a larger bench to revisit its 2018 verdict from a wider perspective. This bench could also look into issues of entry of women into mosques and entry of Parsi women who marry outside the community into its fire temple.
“There is yet another seminal issue as to the power of the court to determine if the constitutional court can interfere in such integral parts of the religion,” the five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi ruled on Thursday in a majority 3:2 verdict. Justice Indu Malhotra, who have given a dissenting judgment in this case last year and Justice AM Khanwilkar were the other two judges.
In a minority judgment, justices RF Nariman and DY Chandrachud have backed rejecting the 65-odd review petitions against the September 2018 verdict that doors of the Sabarimala temple to women.
The 2018 verdict had called the practice of barring women of a certain age group from entering the temple illegal and unconstitutional, triggering protests by traditionalists in the state. It had held that their exclusion on the basis of biological and physiological features denied women the right to be treated as equals.
There were huge protests outside the temple nestled in the Western Ghats in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district after last year’s verdict; at its peak 50,000 protesters were booked by the police. The protests had the support of temple priests who insisted that the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is a celibate and women of menstruating age can’t be allowed on account of “purity”.
On Thursday, the priests who had been glued to their television sets all morning were the first ones to cheer the top court.
There is no stay on the entry of women into Sabarimala temple but Thursday split verdict has renewed hopes of a reversal at some point in the future. “God heard the prayers of millions of believers,” said main priest tantri Rajeevaru Kandarau.
Last year’s Sabarimala verdict had been questioned by legal luminaries such a former minister Arun Jaitley who, speaking at the HT Leadership Summit, asked if one fundamental right could override the other; if the right to equality could override the right to religion and the right to administer religious institutions.
Sabarimala is considered to be the second largest seasonal pilgrim centre in the world next to Mecca. The Travancore Devaswom Board, the temple’s custodian, puts the number of annual pilgrims at around 3-4 crore pilgrims during the season. There was a 50 per cent dip in pilgrims last year due to protests over entry of women. Over 50,000 people were booked at the height of the agitation.