SABARIMALA TEMPLE CASE

By: Kriti Agrawal

Introduction: –

Case Name:  Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors vs The State of Kerala & Ors.

Citation:  Writ Petition (Civil) No 373 of 2006

Parties name:  Indian Young Lawyers Association (petitioner)

Travancore Devaswom Board (respondent)

State of Kerala (respondent)

Pandalam Royal Family (respondent)

Chief Thanthri (respondent)

Bench: Deepak Mishra, A.N. Khanwilkar, Rohintan Nariman, Indu Malhotra, D.Y.   Chandrachud

Sabarimala Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is an ancient temple. The temple is set over one of the eighteen mountains scatter over the Western Ghats known as Sannidhanam, situated in the district of Pathanamthitta in Kerala. The devotees of Lord Ayyappa believe that the strengths arise from his austerity, in particular him being celibate. Celibacy is a method that is accepted by travellers before and during the journey. Those who believe in Lord Ayyappa and request prayers are anticipated to pursue a strict ‘Vratham’ or a promise over 41 days which lays down a set of methods.

The practice of restricting and banning the women from entering and participating in these 41 days of penance ‘vratham’ has been examined by the Ayyapan community since period immemorial as contended by the Thantri of the temple. The God at Sabarimala takes the aspect of a Naishtika Brahmachary along with examining a penance, the supporters are presumed to wear black clothes and cut all family relations while examining the ‘vratham’. It is contended that a variation from the celibacy and abstinence examined by the supporters would be affected by the existence of women. Women have not been able to be a part of this journey because of assumptions regarding their physiological characteristics, deeming them weak and unfit for the arduous journey. According to Hindu beliefs women are considered to be impure while menstruating. Thus, the temple councils have placed regulations on the entry of women between the ages 10 and 50 to protect the temple’s sanctity.

In 1990, S Mahendran filed a plea in Kerala High Court pursuing a ban on women’s exclusion of entry to the temple. But Kerala High Court ratified the age-old constraint on women of a particular age-group entering the temple. On August 4, 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association documented a petition in the Supreme Court striving to assure entry of female supporters between the age group of 10 to 50 at the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala. 

On September 28th, 2018, the Supreme Court enacted a decision that enables entry of women in Sabarimala temple. This decision dealt with various issues before coming to this decision; the article will further deal with the issues brought up by the petitioners and examined in the case.

Issues for which petitioner contended: –

Ban on women based on physical factors violates Article 14 which deals with right to equality, Article 15 which prohibits discrimination, Article 17which deals with abolition of untouchability and any such procedure which is actually violative of other noted rights cannot be conserved by “morality” under Article 25.

Does practice of not including women comprise an “essential religious practise” under Article 25 and can a religious organization claim that it arrives under the umbrella of Right to govern its conspiracies in the courses of religion?

Whether Ayyappa Temple has a denominational personality and, if so, is it acceptable on the part of a ‘religious denomination’ governed by a statutory committee and financed under Article 290-A of the Constitution of India out of the Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to satisfy in such exercises infringing constitutional principles entrenched in Articles 14, 15(3), 39(a) and 51-A(e)?

Does Rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules authorize ‘religious denomination’ to prohibit entry of women between the ages of 10 to 50 years? Or if it accomplishes then is it an infringement of Article 14 and 15(1) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women based on sex?

Petitioners Arguments: –

It was argued on behalf of petitioners that rather of religious arguments the prohibition was based more on the ground of specific practical physiological extents like the inability of women to ratify a problematic way of forests and mountains over 41 days arduous journey. These justifications are unusual.

It was also contended that contemplating women impure because they menstruate and they can’t be touched at that time is racism against them on the ground of their sex and practising of untouchability which is precisely illegal under our Fundamental Rights.

Also, Article 25 gives women the freedom to practice their religion too.

Regulation of women because of the celibate personality of the Lord Ayappa is demeaning to the women.

The rule 3 laid down by the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules is violative of Fundamental Rights.

Respondent’s argument: –

These regulations can’t be questioned as they are on the ground of religion and traditions. It was contended that Lord Ayappa is a celibate and should be treated as an individual. Therefore, as a person, Lord Ayappa’s Right to Privacy under Article 21 should be conserved. The entry of women between 10-50 years of age,menstruating age, is the indifference with the celibate essence of the Lord Ayappa. It was also contended that it is not physiologically feasible for women to seek 41-day penance. The ban stands as the very core of the assumption and forms an integral part of the religion. It was also argued that Article 15(2) does not pertain to religious institutions.

Judgment

The Court, by considering and contemplating over every significant factor, provided a judgment in favour of the petitioner in a 4:1 majority.

Arguing views of Justice Indu Malhotra:

Justice Indu Malhotra was the only woman judge who had a contrary belief on the bench. She urged that Article 25 guarantees the right to freely profess, practise and produce their faith to each individual, by the principles of their religion’ and the exclusionary practises were in unity with the tenets of the ‘Ayappan’ community. Hence, stating that it is not violative of Article 25. Further, she added that the Ayappan community is a distinct religious denomination which is conserved under Article 26 to govern its spiritual affairs and this matter is a blended question of both the fact and law which should be agreed before a competent court of civil jurisdiction. Justice Malhotra opined that courts do not have the power to interfere in private religious matters and unless very terrible religious processes should not be glimpsed with rationality. Upholding that the Rule 3(b) of the 1965 Rules is not ultra vires to Section 3 of the 1965 Act but just an abnormality for the advantage of the spiritual denomination. She asserted that Judicial survey of religious practices should not be put up with the care of by the Court as it is outside the ambit of the Court to justify belief.

Sabarimala 2019 review Petition

In 2018, when SC stated and upheld that any woman of any age is enabled to enter the Sabarimala temple. The decision confused a more extensive section of the society as it tampers with their spiritual assumption and beliefs. So, it led to violence among the male section and religiously staunch people who filed for survey petitions in the Court.

The Petition was documented against the 2018 judgement of the Supreme Court, and the main question of assertion here was that does Supreme Court’s scope is wide enough to infer and interfere in the matters of religion and faith. Petitioners argued that the worship in the temple is based on the celibate character of God. Constitutional belief is morally a subjective test, and it shouldn’t be used in the understanding of the faith. It influences their Right to practice their religion on their own. The theory of untouchability which was carried in the 2018 decision, was said to be false on the grounds that this concept is more about the context without due consideration and deliberation. The Court thus agreed to keep the journal requests on hold and also waited with the 2018 order which awarded women the Right to enter the temple until a larger bench agrees on this issue. Still, there are other similar questions in line which also gets influenced by this decision. So, the best is to not transmit any decision on it as of now. The Court also indicated dissatisfaction in the way people responded and not greeted the decision. People, instead of following it, confused and obliterated it to the way it weakened the importance of the Honourable Supreme Court. The Court on this opined that it is the Right furnished to the residents of the country that if they are not convinced with the decision of the Court, they can file review. Still, meanwhile every resident has to follow and accept whatever the Court lays down the rules as our Constitution establishes supreme Court to conserve and protect itself. It is the duty of respect its importance.

Conclusion: –

This decision came as a landmark judgment, particularly during a time when the country is religiously allocated. India is a country where belief plays a vital role in shaping the society. The decision is an advanced one and set an illustration that the orthodoxy, superstition, and patriarchy would never weaken the spirit of constitutional belief. Though while glancing into the petitions court has decided to deem different consequences interested to it in the future, but it again approved the same belief. It did not take away women’s rights which were given to them in 2018 ruling. The Supreme Court has thus shown that the primary importance of equivalence and belief is above any other belief and will be ratified always and forever above all.

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