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SABRIMALA TEMPLE CASE

Author: Archita Sharma, III year of B.A., LL.B.(Hons.) from PSIT College of Law, Kanpur



A case that proved to be the landmark judgment towards the history of legal changes in society.

A case that put an end to the year-old conservative and preposterous mindset of society.

A case which indicated that women in India are still treated as the descent of Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswathi.


The Sabrimala Temple is located in Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala. Millions of pilgrimages visit here every year. This temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, a Hindu celibate that is “NaisthikBrahmachari”.


In the year 1991, the HC of Kerala gave the judgment of S.Mahendran's case and imposed reasonable restrictions in the temple only in respect of women of a particular age group and not a woman as a class. It was also said that when in the year 1950 the fire broke out before that also the women of the age group 10 to 50 years were not allowed to enter the temple. This was due to the reason that Lord Ayyappa was a celibate so if women of reproductive age would enter the premise this would slightly deviate the celibacy and austerity of the deity. It was also considered that women of 10 to 50 years of age will be aired after the 41days of penance that’s why Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 denied the women by saying that “Women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of worship”


If we talk about the reasonability of the 1991 judgment then it is not favouring gender equality and article 14 of the Indian Constitution and not only this they are not even complying with the fundamental right of religion. It was a biased opinion as it focused on the state and priest of the Sabrimala temple because whatever the local state law suggested and whatever was mentioned by the priest of the temple based on some of the historical events and customs prevalent was only mentioned.


On 4 August 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a plea in the Supreme court of India seeking to ensure the entry of female devotees between the age of 10 to 50 years at Sabarimala temple. Now after these different political parties took this as an agenda of getting votes but for the 10 years, there was no progress in the case.


After 10 years on 11 April 2016 S.C said that gender justice is endangered by the prohibition on women’s entry in the temple, and on 17 July 2018, finally, the five-judge constitution bench started hearing which comprised of CJI Dipak Misra, JusticeR.F. Nariman, A.M.Khanwilkar, D.Y.Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra. The judgment was issued on the 4:1 basis where only Indu Malhotra had a dissenting opinion.


If we look at the case the only reason for prohibiting women was because of the menstrual cycle they had every month and just because of this they are considered weak towards handling each complication of 41 days penance. The menstrual cycle of women in most cultures is considered a disgusting phenomenon that cannot be ignored but cannot be accepted too. Women are considered untouchable when they deal with their monthly problems.


Now further if we talk about the asceticism of women in Hindu mythology, then many women have proved that their austerity is also remarkable for example Swayamprbha a devotee who guided the Lord Hanuman to search For Devi Sita. They were considered the ascetic ladies because they had gone through many atonements for acquiring the position of a Hermitess. It’s completely peripheral to say that women are sickening at the time of their menstrual cycle and are weak as they cannot tackle the problems faced during penance.


There were various submissions submitted by the learned counsel in this case like: -

1.Right of a woman to worship is also an important right under article 25 of the Indian constitution and violation of such rights is not an essential religious practice.


2.Exclusion of women from entering the temple is discrimination as per article 15(1) and disclosure of women’s menstrual status is violative of the right to privacy under article 21.


Even the religious denomination symbolization of Lord Ayyappa’s devotees was not constituted because they have no common faith, no distinct name, and no distinct set of practices.


Article 17 prohibits untouchability in any form and exclusion of menstruating women is on the same footing as the exclusion of oppressed classes. Though in the beginning it was considered inapplicable but soon it was accepted too.


It was also said that Article 14 is having an overriding effect on Article 25 as it was said that one is a social evil and the other is a true religious practice. The liberty inequality and religion conflicted because of age-old practices of the temple but the devotion of a person cannot be subjected to gender discrimination. The dominant view was also raised towards the privacy of the deity but they were invalid because it is quite difficult to understand the wishes or feelings of a deity.

As per the opinion of Justice Nariman Article 25(1) also protects the right of women of every age he also said that the age-old customs were unconstitutional and Rule 3(b) was constructed.


The views of Justice D.Y.Chandrachud talked about morality that it cannot affect the fundamental rights as giving equal treatment to women and religion are the ideals of liberty and dignity to both of them. He also said that idea of the menstrual cycle is of no relevance to the basis of denial of women as it has no constitutional basis.


CJI Dipak Misra said that this exclusion of women from entering the temple was a patriarchal practice and further said that Ayyappa’s also didn’t pass the twin test of declaring themselves as a religious denomination. [1] This case proved to be a landmark case because of its essence as freedom is the very essence of democracy.


References

[1] “Indian Kanoon,” [Online]. Available: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/163639357/.

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