Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

SC puts spotlight on curbs placed on women in places of worship

  • Apart from Sabarimala, the larger bench may examine bar on women’s entry in mosques, Parsi temples
  • The Supreme Court bench did not put a stay on its previous judgement that had lifted the ban on the entry of women between ages 10 and 50 in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala

NEW DELHI : The apex court has once again put the spotlight on the constitutional validity of religious practices that put restrictions on women. On Thursday, while referring a review petition in Kerala’s Sabarimala temple case to a larger bench, the court stressed on the larger issue of women being barred from entering places of worship across religions.

The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in a 3:2 majority ruling, referred Kerala’s Sabarimala temple case to a larger bench of seven judges. The bench did not put a stay on the judgement passed on 28 September 2018 that had lifted the ban on entry of women between age 10 and 50 to the temple.

The development is key as the court has said that the larger bench may also look at restrictions placed on women on other places of worship, including dargah/mosque and that of Parsi women who are married to non-Parsis in the holy fire place of an Agyari. The majority decisions by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices A.M Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra have elucidated in the present judgement that issues arising in the cases pending before the court “may be overlapping with the issues bought forth in the present judgement under review."

The decision of a larger bench would put at rest recurring issues touching upon the rights flowing from Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India which provide freedom of religion and the right to manage their own affairs in matters of religion respectively.

Besides the issue of restrictions on women, the court said that another pending issue was relating to the powers of the courts to decide on questions as to whether a particular practice is essential to religion or is an integral part of the religion. This question was mentioned in respect of female genital mutilation in Dawoodi Bohra community.

Justices R.F. Nariman and D.Y. Chandrachud, giving a minority verdict, gave a dissenting view and ordered for the dismissal of all review petitions and directed compliance with the judgement dated 28 September. The minority verdict quoted a paragraph from the original judgement given in the Sabarimala case where it was held that “the present case raises grave issues which relate to gender bias on account of a physiological or biological function which is common to all women."

Experts said that religious practices are discriminatory against women and a move towards equality should be made. “Every religious institution in India discriminates against women in some form or the other. Religious practices and traditions are discriminatory towards women. I am happy that a bench of seven judges will review it and interpret it in the context of the right to equality towards women. The larger bench, which will look at the issue across religions, is a welcome move," Ranjana Kumari, a social activist and director at Centre for Social Research.

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