Supreme Court refers case of ban on women’s entry into Sabarimala temple to Constitution Bench

The case of the ban on the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple has been pertaining for too long now and the Supreme Court on Friday referred it to a five-judge Constitution bench. A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan passed the order.

The Constitution Bench will decide whether the rights of women, especially their fundamental right to religious freedom and to pray at the place of their choice, can be discriminated against by a temple managed by a statutory board — here the Travancore Devaswom Board — created by a State legislature.

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court by the Indian Young Lawyers Association challenging the custom of the temple to ban entry of women who fall under the age of 10-50, saying it was discriminatory. The Kerala High Court had upheld the custom in 1991.

The reason explained for the restriction is the fact that the presiding deity Lord Ayyappa is considered to be a ‘naishtika Brahmachari’ (perennial celibate). The temple’s management had told SC that women of menstruating age can’t be allowed on account of “purity”

The Constitution Bench will answer the question whether a 1991 judgment of the Kerala High Court upholding the ban would amount to res judicata.

It will decide whether the ban qualifies as an “essential religious practice” of the Hindu faith, over which the apex court has no jurisdiction. It will also decide whether Ayyappa devotees form a separate religious denomination by themselves.

Most importantly, the Constitution Bench will decide whether the ban 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) is violative of the fundamental rights of women to practice religion freely.

-with inputs from The Hindu.

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