Sabarimala Verdict: Once again, Supreme Court bats for women's equality

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"To determine the validity of long-standing religious customs and usages of a sect... would require this court to decide religious questions at the behest of persons who do not subscribe to this faith".

The former Board president Prayar Gopalakrishnan accused the Left Democratic Front government of having abetted the destruction of the basic tenets and traditions of Sabarimala pilgrimage by favouring the entry for all women to the temple. It accepts "public interest litigations" - an idiosyncratic legal tool that gives all Indians access to the country's top court. Article 17 pertains to untouchability based on caste prejudice. On the one hand, women are worshipped as goddesses, but there are restrictions on the other hand.

Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, is the most famous and prominent among all the Sastha temples in Kerala. The temple barred women of a "menstruating age"- defined as between the ages of 10 and 50 - from entering. Menstruation is associated with impurity in India, and menstruating women face huge stigma.

The LDF government, which was in power in Kerala when the petition was filed in 2006, had chosen not to oppose the petition and had filed an affidavit supporting the entry of women into the temple.

They also say they will appeal to the Supreme Court for a review of the ruling. Subsequently, it changed its stand again and told the Court that it is ready to allow women, irrespective of their age, inside the temple.

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Hindu group representatives have reacted sharply, calling the SC verdict "ultra judicial activism that trespasses into religious practices". "It is the constitutional right", it had said. P. Ramavarma Raja said that as staunch believers in the rule of law, the palace would work for combined efforts by all stakeholders, mainly the devotees, to find a peaceful solution to the issue. She was quoted by ANI, "Religious practices can't exclusively be tested on the basis of the right to equality".

The court passed four sets of separate judgements on a clutch of pleas challenging ban on the entry of women of menstrual age in Kerala's Sabrimala temple saying law and society are tasked with the task to act as levellers. "Pilgrims have to take vows of strict religious observance for 41 days before embarking on the trek to Neelimala to reach the shrine, which has 18 sacred steps, and catch a glimpse of the deity", he said.

Three judges concur with the Chief Justice when he said that historically women have been discriminated.

Azad comes from a deeply religious Hindu family and has always wanted to visit the shrine with her parents.

The judgment was not a surprise - in the last two years, activists have won challenges to similar bans on women in the inner sanctums of two other temples and a landmark mosque in Mumbai.

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