A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi in February concluded the arguments and reserved the judgement on the batch of petitions seeking review of the apex court verdict in 2018, which allowed the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple.
It is one of the most important judgements, which is expected to be pronounced before the Chief Justice’s term ends this month.
On September 28, 2018, the top court opened the gates of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa to the women in the age group of 10-50, saying it was violative of their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.
A Constitution bench, headed by the then CJI Dipak Misra, gave a 4:1 verdict claiming the ban led to gender discrimination. The pathbreaking judgment has left the temple tantris (priests) and those associated with it by tradition disappointed.
Many leaders and religious leaders expressed disagreement with the court’s observation and opined that it may bring an adverse impact on society. It also has led to massive protests in Kerala, which resulted in a political slugfest between then ruling CPI-M and the BJP.
On October 8, multiple petitions were filed in the Supreme Court to seek review of its verdict to lift a ban on entry of women in the 10-50 age group into the temple, contending that religious practices cannot be “tested on the basis of rationality”.
As many as 64 petitions, which include review pleas and transfer pleas, have been filed in the apex court challenging its decision on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. On the last day of the hearing, in what appeared to unprecedented, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which handles management of Sabarimala temple in Kerala, reversed its stand in the top court by expressing its support to the 2018 court verdict, which had allowed women of all age groups to enter the shrine.
The board submitted in the court that discrimination on the grounds of biological attributes was not correct.
The bench had heard submissions on behalf of all parties, including the Kerala government, Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), Nair Service Society and others. The court had then said it would pronounce its order on whether to review the judgment or not.
The Kerala government had expressed its support for the Supreme Court ruling in 2018 and urged the top court to not consider the petitions seeking the review of the judgement.
The Nair Service Society had moved the court opposing the court’s verdict in 2018, and the Kerala government, TDB and the two women who had entered the shrine had expressed their opposition these review petitions.
Senior advocate K. Parasaran, counsel for the Nair Service Society, had argued before a five-judge bench and urged the court to set aside its earlier verdict.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, counsel for TDB, submitted before the court that Article 25 (1) equally entitles all persons to practise one’s religion. “Women cannot be barred on biological attributes. In the Constitution, equality is the dominant theme,” said Dwivedi while voicing board’s opinion that people should accept the top court verdict.
The board had earlier consistently opposed the entry of women into Lord Ayyapa shrine at Sabarimala, and its U-turn on the matter has been brought on record before the court.
In light of these circumstances, it will be interesting to see the outcome of these arguments in the Supreme Court judgement. The TDB had also opposed a PIL by the Indian Young Lawyers Association. The board said the celibate character of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala temple was a unique religious feature, and it is protected under the Constitution.