NEW DELHI: If god does not discriminate between men and women, why does discrmination exist in temples, the Supreme Court asked today as it said it would examine the issue of entry ban of women of menstrual age in historic Sabarimala temple on "constitutional parameters".
"We want to test this on constitutional parameters," the bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said and asked senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for the Travancore Devaswom Board, to apprise it whether this practice was "intricately fundamental" to religious custom and practice and hence cannot be interfered with.
The bench, also comprising Justices P C Ghose and N V Ramana, referred to Bhagwad Gita and said neither the 'Vedas', nor the 'Upanishads' discriminated on grounds of gender. "The God does not discriminate between men and women, so why there should be gender discrimination in premises of the temple," the bench said and referred to a mythological story about 'Sati Anusuyia' who had turned Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh into kids and asked "how can you stop the mother from entering the temple."
Venugopal, who sought six weeks time for filing evidence including documents and ancient scriptures on the issue, said the practice of prohibiting women of menstrual age in Sabarimala was being followed for centuries, an aspect which should be kept in mind while deciding the PIL.
The bench also took note of Kerala government's recent stand and termed it as "somersault" saying, "You have filed an affidavit by taking an opposite stand. We will test it also as to whether a can take a somersault or u-turn".The Kerala government, in its recent affidavit, has said the prohibition of women was a "matter of religion" and it was duty-bound to "protect the right to practice the religion of these devotees".
"A state or a party can always correct its earlier erroneous stand," senior lawyer V Giri, appearing for Kerala, said. Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for an intervenor, said women were part of the human race and they have to be allowed entry. "Women can also observe celibacy," she said while countering Venugopal's submissions. The bench, which has now posted the matter for further hearing in April, asked the lawyers that it will not allow any "sentimental and emotional" arguments.
"What about the spiritual arguments," Jaising asked. "No individual philosophy will be allowed," the court, which appointed senior advocates Raju Ramachandran and K Ramamurthy as amicus curiae, said.
The state government, in the recent affidavit, said that the administration of the temple vested with the Travancore Devaswom Board under the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act and the decision of the priests is final in the matter of worship. "In the context of Sabarimala, the administration vests with the Travancore Devaswom Board under the provisions of the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950.
"Under the Act, there is a statutory duty cast on the Board to arrange worship in temples in accordance with the usage. Therefore, in matters of religion, it is the opinion of the priests that is final," the affidavit said. Prior to this, the apex court had asked Delhi Police to provide security to lawyer Naushad Ahmed Khan who has allegedly received threat calls after his NGO filed a PIL seeking entry of women in the Sabarimala temple, saying such attempts should be "crippled in the beginning" itself.
Khan, the President of Indian Young Lawyers' Association (IYLA) which has filed the PIL on Sabarimala issue, has alleged that he has been receiving threat calls for moving the court.
The IYLA, in its plea, has sought entry for all women and girls in the Sabarimala temple which, as a practice, does not allow girls after attaining puberty to enter the premises. The temple, however, allows only those women to enter who have reached the menopause stage.
The apex court on January 11 had questioned the age-old tradition of banning entry of women of menstrual age group in the Kerala temple, saying this cannot be done under the Constitution. It had asked the Kerala government whether it was sure that women have not entered the temple premises in the last 1,500 years.