Ernakulam: The Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to review its 28 September verdict removing the age bar at Sabarimala has sparked a debate in Kerala on whether it means women of menstruating age should not be let in during the pilgrim season starting Saturday, despite the court making it clear that there is “no stay" on its previous order.
The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government is yet to officially respond to the court decision to hear the review petitions on 22 January, but members of opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress, and some from the government itself have said the age bar should continue.
Sabarimala receives millions of devotees during the annual pilgrimage season and there are already protests against women’s entry by hundreds of people seeking to uphold the ritualistic ban.
“As the Supreme Court has not stayed its previous verdict, it is clear that the apex court still honours that position. Anyway, we will consult our lawyers," chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan told television channels.
However, opposition members and Kerala’s law minister A.K. Balan hold another view. “The government’s opinion has not been formed. But my personal opinion is that women may not be allowed in this (pilgrimage) season," Balan said over the phone.
“Agreeing to hear the review petitions itself is an admission of error on the record, or omission. Normally, under these circumstances, even if the 28 September order is not stayed, this means we have to uphold the previous 1991 Kerala high court order which banned women’s entry," Balan said.
Kerala temple affairs minister Kadakampally Surendran declined to comment before consulting with lawyers. A. Padmakumar, president of Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine, also said the same.
BJP Kerala president P. Sreedharan Pillai said his party will carry out protests if the government does not change its stand. “It is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to agree to hear review petitions on a Constitution bench’s order. The government should immediately consider this as a sign and wait for the final decision to come before allowing women," he said.
Ramesh Chennithala, the opposition leader in the assembly from Congress, said the government should take the apex court order as a godsend to change its position.
Earlier, the government had said it will hold an all-party meeting on the issue before the temple’s reopening, to consider all views on the matter. Several women’s rights activists have already said they plan to visit the temple between 16 and 20 December.