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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

Supreme Court verdict tomorrow on plea challenging Sabarimala ruling

A five-judge bench of the court, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, had in Feburary this reserved its verdict on pleas challenging its ruling on Sabarimala.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2019 13:53 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram
Supreme Court
Supreme Court(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The Supreme Court will on Thursday pronounce its verdict on a bunch of pleas seeking a review of its September 2018 order allowing the entry of women of all ages into Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple that triggered protracted protests and shutdowns in the state. The temple will open for annual three-month pilgrimage from November 17.

As many as 65 petitions were filed against the September 28, 2018, verdict that ended the ban on entry for women and girls of menstruating age (10-50) into the temple and upheld the right to equality of worship.

Devotees have blocked attempts of women in this age group, who have attempted to visit the temple. Women have even been threatened and pelted with stones during protests against the ruling even as some of them have managed to pray at the temple under police protection.

Traditionalists maintain that younger women should not be allowed inside the temple as it is dedicated to the celibate deity, Lord Ayyappan.

Many devotees, who have called for the return of the status quo at the temple, are hopeful following the top court’s verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case that paved the way of construction of the temple in Ayodhya and declared deity Ram Lalla a juristic person.

A juristic person is a legally recognized non-human legal entity entitled to rights like a human being.

The devotees say that Ayyapan has certain rights that have to be respected.

Both the Congress as well as its arch-rival, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have backed the protests citing the sentiments of the devotees. The BJP has criticised the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led state government for trying to implement the ruling and blamed it for undermining Hindu traditions.

At least 50,000 protestors were booked at the height of agitation against the ruling. The protests led to a decrease in the number of pilgrims, who visited the temple during the three-month pilgrimage season from November to February.

On average, up to 20 million devotees would pray at the temple during the season.

Rahul Easwar, grandson of a former Sabarimala chief priest, said that they are optimistic that the ruling will be reversed. “Lakhs of devotees have been praying day in and day out for the protection of their belief,” said Iswar, who has opposed the court’s ruling and was arrested twice last year during the protests against it.

P Abilash, an engineering student who spent 40 days at a tea shop disguised as a helper to take part in the protests against the ruling at the hilltop shrine, said that they have been wrongly projected as anti-women. “Every deity is different and they do carry peculiar characteristics. In other Ayyappa temples, women of all ages are allowed. We hope the apex court will respect the sentiments of the believers and leave such issues to seers….”

Abilash, who is facing four cases of rioting and flouting prohibitory orders, said that he did everything for the deity and underlined that he was not against women.

Women activists said that the court was unlikely to review the four-one majority verdict. “It is a well-studied verdict and I do not think any dramatic changes to it,” said author and activist Lekshmy Rajeeve.

Bindu Ammini, who was one of the two women who managed to enter the temple last year, said that the ruling was historic and hoped that the top court will reject “patriarchal views of some zealots”. She said that she expected a steady stream of younger women visitors at the shrine after her entry but was shocked to see nobody could make it.

There was a rush for special offerings at many Ayyapan temples in anticipation of a “favourable outcome.”

A Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi-led five-judge constitution bench reserved its decision over the review pleas on February 6. The apex court, by a majority verdict of 4:1, had called the practice of preventing younger women from entering the temple illegal and unconstitutional.