By a 4:1 verdict, a five-Judge Constitution Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra (since retired) said that the ban on women in menstruating age group, whose presence at the Lord Ayyappa temple was considered to be “impure”, violated their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantee of equality.
Until now, girls below the age of 10 and women over the age of 50 were allowed to visit the hilltop shrine in the Western Ghats that is about 130 km from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
The review petitions have been filed by Nair Service Society (NSS), People for Dharma, National Ayyappa Devotees Association and Chetana Conscience of Women, raising points of procedural error in the judgment.
The petitioners contend that the judgment “is an interference with the faith and belief of millions of devotees of Lord Ayyappa which the court is not empowered to do”.
“Without holding that the questions raised related to matters of religion which are not within judicially manageable standards, the majority decision in substance effectively has the effect of holding that the character of the deity can be altered based on individual faith and belief, in violation of the tenets of a particular religion and or religious sect,” said the petition filed by the NSS.
The petitioners also argued that besides “patent legal errors” in the verdict, the assumption that the temple practice is based on notions of menstrual impurity is “factually erroneous”.
Pointing to massive protests against the verdict by women worshippers, the petitioners said: “The subsequent events that transpired after the judgment clearly demonstrate that overwhelmingly large section of women worshippers are supporting the custom of prohibiting entry of women in the menstruating age group to the temple.”
Besides triggering protests by worshipers, the issue has also acquired political colour with the Congress and BJP opposing the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government’s move to implement the verdict.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared on the day that the Kerala government won’t file a review petition.