NEW DELHI :
The Supreme Court on Monday rolled off the process of deciding on the tricky matter of how various religions in India treat women.
Lawyers appearing in multiple cases of alleged religious discrimination against women—most notably the Sabarimala temple case—were on Monday directed to meet among themselves this week and decide what issues they want the Supreme Court to hear.
A nine-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde gave the directions in a reference made during the Sabarimala review petition, pertaining to the rights of women to worship. It said it will consider issues related to essential religious practices, the interplay between fundamental rights and faith, judicial review and other aspects. A reference is made by a court when there is a reasonable doubt about a question of law.
Bobde, however, said the bench will not decide anything on the Sabarimala review petition that seeks to overturn the court’s order upholding the rights of women of menstruating age to offer prayers at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
Instead, the court will deliberate on the larger issues pertaining to the matter. “We are not hearing the review petition—only sticking to the larger issues," said Bobde.
The court said the lawyers’ meeting will be held on Friday and attended by the Supreme Court secretary general.
The Chief Justice also suggested that the lawyers discuss three main points at the meeting—framing and modification of the issues; division of time on each issue; and division and allocation of issues between the lawyers.
The issues should be decided within three weeks. “Counsel will decide among themselves what issues (are) to be argued by whom," said Bobde.
On 14 November, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had asked a larger bench to examine various religious issues, including women’s entry to Sabarimala, mosques and other places of worship, and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
The same bench had given a 3:2 split verdict on petitions seeking a review of the apex court’s September 2018 order, which allowed women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala shrine.
The bench while referring the matter to a larger bench had broadly mentioned seven questions of law to be examined. They are: the interplay between Article 25 (Right to profess religion of choice) and 26 (Right to manage religious affairs) of the Constitution; the meaning of the expression ‘sections of Hindus’ in the Constitution; the need to delineate the expression ‘constitutional morality’ or ‘morality’; whether ‘essential religious practices’ of a denomination or section are protected under Article 26; the extent to which courts can enquire into religious practices; the meaning of the expression ‘public order, morality and health’; and the permissible extent of judicial recognition to public interest litigations in matters calling into question religious practices at the instance of people who do not belong to the particular religious denominations.
The majority verdict had decided to keep pending the pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding the entry of women into Sabarimala, saying restrictions on women in religious places was not restricted to Sabarimala and was prevalent in other religions as well.