New Delhi, Feb 6 (IANS) The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the Sabarimala temple, on Wednesday joined the Kerala government in supporting entry of women of all ages into the hilltop shrine, saying that any practice has to be consistent with the Constitution’s dominant theme – “all persons are equally entitled”.
The TDB spelt out its changed position before the five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra as it opposed a batch of petitions seeking the review of the court’s September 28, 2018 judgment lifting the ban of entry of women of all age groups.
Senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the board, focused on constitutional morality, which he said was not subjective but founded on Articles 14, 15, 17, 21 and 25 of the Constitution and subject to other fundamental rights.
The court on Wednesday reserved its order on a batch of 54 petitions seeking recall of its verdict which had opened the gates of the temple to Lord Ayyappa to the women in the 10-50 age group, holding that the exclusion based on “menstrual status is a form of untouchability which is an anathema to constitutional values”.
In a 4:1 judgment with Justice Malhotra dissenting, the court had also held that “notions of ‘purity and pollution’, which stigmatize individuals, have no place in a constitutional order”.
Citing human dignity, Dwivedi said: “Practices prevailing in our temples should be in conformity with the constitutional morality.”
At this, Justice Malhotra asked Dwivedi: “There’s a change in stand of Devaswom Board. You had argued otherwise.”
“Now the Board has taken a decision to respect the judgment,” he replied.
Although the TDB on Wednesday stated, for the first time, its changed position before the court, it had sought an explanation from the temple tantri (head priest) for closing the temple to undertake its purification after two women aged below 50 had entered the temple and offered prayers.
Contending that the times now are globally “inclusive”, Dwivedi scoffed at the idea of citing the biological attributes of women to exclude them from anything, including temple entry.
Earlier during Wednesday’s hearing, the Kerala government opposed the review petitions, saying that there was no need to review the judgment as unconstitutional practices could not be allowed to go on.
It also assured that “social peace would eventually prevail”.
Senior counsel Jaideep Gupta argued that Sabarimala temple is a public temple and its affairs are managed by a law, and that religious practices shadowing the fundamental rights can be over-ruled.
Pointing out that that the trust of the constitution is that ‘you will not discriminate’, Gupta said that all the customs are subject to fundamental rights.
Indira Jaising, appearing for Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini – the two women who entered Sabarimala to pray – said that what was being witnessed was not just a case of exclusion but of social boycott. She said that shopkeepers have been asked not to have any kind of dealings with the two women.
The fact is that the menstruating woman are seen as polluting in this country, Jaising said. She also noted that worship also came under freedom of conscience.
Advocate P.V.Dinesh, who appeared for a 10-year-old Hyderabad girl, contended that “if a 10-year-old girl can breach the naishtika brahmacharyam (eternal celibacy) of God, then a child is being portrayed as a sexual object”.
On the other hand, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for one of the petitioners seeking recall of the September 28 judgment, said that Hinduism was one of the most diverse religions and the court is attempting to allow only those “essential religious practices” which are “universally ethical”.
This, he argued, was not a right approach”.