New Delhi: All men and women have an equal right to worship under the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, while hearing a public interest litigation filed in 2006 by non-profit body Indian Young Lawyers’ Association, seeking entry for all women and girls in the Sabarimala shrine.
Girls and women of menstruating age—10-50 years—are not allowed in the premises of the temple, which houses Lord Ayyappan.
“Can you as a constitutional dispensation say that women above and below a certain age are impure to classify them as a category for exclusion?" asked the apex court.
The age of a devotee does not affect the person’s right to worship and excluding it on the grounds of menarche to provide rationality with religion is still irrelevant, said a five-judge bench of the court comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and justices Rohinton Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
The court remarked that the very presumption that women below the age of 10 and above the age of 50 would not be menstruating and hence should be allowed to enter the temple premises is itself arbitrary.
The Kerala government, which was represented by advocate Jaideep Gupta, clarified that the state government would not oppose the entry of all women and girls to Sabrimala temple.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF)-led Kerala government had taken a similar stance in 2006 when the petition first came before the court. However, in 2016, at the time of a United Democratic Front government, the apex court was informed that the state government would support the ban on entry of women and girls to the temple. This was again reversed later that year after the LDF government came to power.
Advocate R.P. Gupta, appearing for the petitioner, argued that restriction on entry of women to Sabrimala temple was in violation of Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution.
Advocate Indira Jaising argued that such a ban also violated Article 17 of the Constitution, which prohibits any form of untouchability.
The case was referred to a constitution bench by a bench headed by Chief Justice Misra in October last year.
“When the Constitution was written there was no discrimination that there were temples for men or women. The court has said that there should be no discrimination," Jayamala, Karnataka cabinet minister and yesteryear actress said in Bengaluru. Jayamala’s claim in 2006 of having entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and allegedly touched Lord Ayyappa’s idol in Sabrimala 20 years ago had resulted in a case being slapped against her and two others, raking up a huge controversy for having violated temple rules that bar the entry of women between 10-50.
“There should only be devotion between God and devotee," she said.
The matter would be next heard on Thursday.