New Delhi: Taking a swipe at religious customs and temple entry restrictions violating women’s constitutional rights, the Supreme Court on Monday said no temple or governing body can bar a woman from entering the famous Sabarimala shrine in Kerala where lakhs of devotees throng annually to worship.
“Why can you not let a woman enter? On what basis are you prohibiting women entry… What is your logic? Women may or may not want to go (to worship at Sabarimala), but that is her personal choice,” Justice Dipak Misra, who headed a three-judge Special Bench, pulled up the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine.
When the Devaswom Board countered that the prohibition was based on custom followed for the past half century, Justice Misra lashed back, asking what proof the Board had to show that women did not enter the sanctum sanctorum over 1500 years ago.
Justice Misra orally observed that the Constitution rejects discrimination on the basis of age, gender and caste. “Unless you have a constitutional right to prohibit women entry, you cannot prevent them from worshipping at the shrine. There is a difference between a temple meant for the public to worship and a mutt,” the Bench said.
The court then asked Kerala government to file a fresh affidavit in a week’s time while posting the case for hearing on January 18.
The Bench was hearing a petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association and five women lawyers seeking a direction to allow entry of women into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple without age restriction. Women in the age group 10-50 are not allowed entry. The apex court had issued notice in the case way back in 2006.
The petition had contended that women, aged between 10 and 50, touching the idol was considered an act of desecration. An attempt was made to prosecute Kannada actor Jaimala on the plea of desecration following her disclosure that she entered the sanctum sanctorum and touched the idol in 1987. The priests conducted a special ritual to purify the idol.
The ban was enforced under Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 (women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship). The Kerala High Court had upheld the ban in 1991 and directed the Devaswom Board to implement it.
The petition contended that discrimination in matters of entry into temples was neither a ritual nor ceremony associated with Hindu religion. Such discrimination was totally anti-Hindu. The religious denomination could only restrict entry into the sanctum sanctorum and could not ban entry into the temple, making a discrimination on the basis of sex.
It had sought quashing of the Rule contending that the ban was violative of Articles 14 (equality before law), 25 and 26 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution. They wanted guidelines laid down in matters of gender inequality in religious practices at places of worship.