NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday questioned the Kerala government and the Travancore Devaswom Board on whether spirituality was the sole domain of men, and women were incapable of attaining it, even as it agreed to examine the issue of the entry ban on women of menstrual age in the historic Sabarimala temple, on the basis of Constitutional parameters.
“We want to test this on Constitutional parameters,” the three-member Bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said and asked senior counsel K K Venugopal, appearing for the Travancore Devaswom Board, to apprise it whether the practice was intricately fundamental to religious custom or practice. “Is spirituality solely within the domain of men? Are you saying that women are incapable of attaining spirituality within the domain of religion?” Justice Misra asked. “God does not discriminate between men and women, so why should there be gender discrimination in premises of the temple,” the Bench said while referring to the story of Sati Anusuya, who had turned Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva into kids and asked “how can you stop the mother from entering the temple”.
Appearing for the State government, senior advocate V Giri submitted that when a man prepares to go for Sabarimala, the entire family cooperate. “Over centuries, this prohibition has been ingrained in the minds of devotees,” he noted.“The God is a celibate. The men who go there to worship him are called swamy,” senior advocate K K Venugopal said.
On this, Justice Misra said, “So, is this tradition of prohibition bound to stay on despite the fundamental right of equality envisaged in the Constitution? If discrimination is not there in the Vedas, the Upanishads, tell us when this kind of distinction started in history?”
Justice Misra said there should be a constitutional balance. “A temple is a public religious phenomenon and its functions should come within the constitutional parameters.”
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, intervening on behalf of an association of law students in a batch of petitions challenging the prohibition of entry to women of a certain age into the temple, said, “There were women brahmacharis too.”
“Cult culture has a core group. Entry is restricted to others considered as outsiders. Religion is wholistic - Sanathana Dharma - and includes one and all without discrimination of sex, caste and gender,” he observed.
The court granted Venugopal six weeks’ time to file an affidavit which, he said, would contain information on the traditions of the temple dating a 1,000 years ago in support of the prohibition.The Bench said the case would require in-depth research on legal, constitutional and even spiritual questions, and appointed senior advocate Raju Ramachandran and former Delhi HC Judge K Ramamurthy as amicus curiae.
The Bench took note of the Kerala government’s recent stand and termed it a somersault, saying, “You have filed an affidavit by taking an opposite stand.” The case will be heard on April 11.
The Kerala government, in its recent affidavit, had said that banning entry of women of menstrual age in the temple was a “matter of religion” and it was duty-bound to “protect the right to practice the religion”. “In Sabarimala context, the administration vests with the the Travancore Devaswom Board,” the affidavit said.