NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday, in response to a PIL filed by the Indian Young Lawyers’ Association (IYLA) seeking entry of all girls and women into the Sabarimala Temple, declared that it would decide the right of women to enter the Temple on Constitutional principles as distinct from existing customs, adding that existing customs endanger gender justice. The apex court will resume hearing on April 20.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said, “We will now only be guided by the rationale under the Constitution. The gravity of this petition is that gender justice is endangered. Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest? The reason for banning anything must be common for all and must be based on the bedrock of the Constitution. Anyone can worship a god or goddess. You have structured God into an idol. Can you say do not come because you are a woman.”
The apex court’s observation comes two weeks after the Bombay High Court ordered the Maharashtra government to ensure that women are not denied entry to any temple.
Senior advocate, K K Venugopal, appearing for the Temple Board, claimed that the practice of prohibiting women of menstrual age in Sabarimala was being followed for centuries, an aspect that should be kept in mind while deciding on the PIL.
The Supreme Court, during the two hour hearing, expressed unhappiness with this line of argument and questioned how barring women from the temple is aligned with principles enshrined in the Constitution. The apex court also disagreed with the submission that the majority of women feel that the prevalent practice is good and reiterated its stand saying, “We are not going by the majoritarian view. We will go by the Constitutional principle. Customary practice cannot override Constitutional values,” the bench observed.
“We would like to understand as to what right ( the temple authorities) have in forbidding a woman from entering the temple, a public place. If God does not discriminate between men and women, then why do temples discriminate?” the bench asked, underlining the fact, once again, that it would examine the question as to whether a public religious place can pass an order barring women from entering its precincts and whether such a prohibition is permissible under the Constitution.
The ban on women entering the temple has been enforced under Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 which bars women entering a public place of worship as predicated by custom and usage. Kerala High Court had upheld the ban in 1991 and directed the Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the temple to implement it.