Supreme Court’s Sabarimala Verdict Explained3 min read
Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage shrine, dedicated to Lord Ayyapa, located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Pathanamthitta District, Perunad in Kerala. One of the world’s largest pilgrimage sites, with 17-20 million devotees visiting every year, Sabarimala was recently in headlines for the milestone verdict by the Supreme Court which lifted the previously applied ban on the entry of women in the temple.
Conception of the ban
In 1991, the Kerala High Court, namely judges Justice K Paripoornan and Justice K Balanarayan Marar, in their ruling against the Travancore Devaswam Board, restricted the entry of women between the ages of 10 to 50, because they were of menstruating age. Before the verdict of 1991, women visited the temple, even though in small numbers, predominantly for practical, non-religious reasons. Women above the age of 50 would visit the temple, for the first rice-feeding ceremonies of their children. Historian MG Shashibhooshan says that the generals ruling the province in 1821 wrote in an official letter, “Women do not come to the temple.” So an informal ban existed, but it wasn’t strictly followed.
Removal of the Ban
The Young Indian Lawyers Association had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in 2006. Arguments regarding the case were heard for over eight days beginning July 17, 2018. After more than two decades of the ban, the Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgement delivered by a five-judge bench, ruled the entry of women in the temple legal, by a 4:1 majority. On the bench of this historic judgement were Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra and Justices R.F. Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra. The single non-assenting opinion was passed by Justice Indu Malhotra.
The judgement of CJI Dipak Misra and Justice Khanwilkar, as read by the CJI said, “The dualistic approach against women degrades the status of women.” He added, “The devotees of Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination.” In addition Justice Nariman said, “Rules disallowing women from entering Sabarimala are unconstitutional and in violation of Article 21.” “Article 25 protects all persons; it means every person in the society,” declared Justice Chandrachud in his respective statement. The only non-consenting verdict on the bench by Justice Indu Malhotra was elaborated upon as, “Issues of deep religious sentiments should not be ordinarily interfered in by the court.” The verdict, however, was extremely well-received by the general masses and media.
Recent Developments in the case
On October 8, 2018, two petitions were filed to review the verdict that lifted the age-old ban. The petitions were filed by the Nair Service Society, a social body of Nair community in Kerala, challenging the court’s verdict.
The other petition was filed by the president of the National Ayyappa Devotees Association, which was hinged on the fact that the people challenging the ban were not devotees of Lord Ayyappa. “The petitioners believe that no legal luminary, not even the greatest of jurists or judges, can be a match to the common sense and wisdom of the masses,” read the petition. The Supreme Court of India, declined the review petitions, saying no out of turn petitions will be reviewed in the courts.
Massive, widespread unrest has spread due this verdict in the devotee class of Kerala, mainly citing the cause of “religious faith and subjectivity”. Delhi based organisations like Chetna Conscience of Women have also joined the movement to protest against the verdict.
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Edited by: Bhavna Subramanian