Sabarimala hearing: SC reserves verdict as Travancore Devaswom Board does U-turn, says respects verdict on women's entry

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved judgment on 65 petitions, including 56 review petitions and four fresh writ petitions, urging it to revisit an earlier order allowing women to enter the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. While the Kerala government stood by its stand and told the five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi that there was no need to review the original verdict of the apex court, the Travancore Devaswom Board changed its stand on not allowing women of all ages into the temple and said it now respected the Court's verdict.

The bench began the hearing by remarking that the pleas made by both petitioner and respondent had interesting aspects. However, it asked the lawyers to limit their arguments only to the grounds on which they are seeking review or defending the court's previous judgment.

The court also ruled out the live telecast or video recording of the court proceeding as requested by one of the petitioners. The court observed that the case primarily involves enforcement of fundamental rights under Article 25.

Sabarimala hearing: SC reserves verdict as Travancore Devaswom Board does U-turn, says respects verdict on womens entry

File image of Sabarimala temple. PTI

Lawyer  K Parasaran, arguing on behalf of the petitioners, sought to lay down his case based on the argument that Constitution covers only limited aspects of religion. He pointed out that the earlier verdict in the Sabarimala case failed to deal with the interplay of Preamble to the Constitution and Articles 15, 17 and 25 of Constitution. Parasaran argued that the court's  judgment didn't discuss Article The 15 at all and that's an error apparent, CNN-News 18 reported.

Bar and Bench reported that Parasaran further argued on the basis of the Article 17 and the reference to untouchability in the Supreme Court's September order. He said that the expanded meaning given in judgment to untouchability under Article 17 will result in it applying only to Hindu Religious institutions under Article 25(2)(b). He argued that this cannot be equated with the nature of ban being sought in Sabarimala.

To this, Justice Rohinton Fali S Nariman interjected saying that untouchability was not the only criterion based on which the court chose to set aside the ban on women's entry. The petitioner, however, argued that even the Preamble to the Constitution grants people the freedom to adhere to their religious practices.

The Chief Justice of India alloted 90 minutes to those supporting the Supreme Court verdict. Advocate Jaideep Gupta, arguing for the Kerala government, said there is no need to review the verdict allowing entry of women of all ages into temple and that the case cannot be reopened by way of review petitions. "A challenge on the ground of untouchability or any other provision will not affect the verdict," the Kerala government told the court, adding that it is "it is not a private issue but a public law issue unless they argue that women between age 10 to 50 are not a class of Hindus."

The Bench reassembled after lunch break with senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi beginning arguments for the Travancore Devaswom Board. In what came as a surprise to even the Bench, the Board spoke in favour of the Court's original judgment, allowing the entry of women into the temple. Justice Indu Malhotra observed that the Board had argued against the entry of women in the main case, to which Dwivedi said, "We have to transform society...we should not point out biological attributes to exclude women from any walk of life."

Advocate Indira Jaising, beginning the round of submissions, said the fact that a purification ceremony had been held at the temple, affirmed that menstruating women are considered "polluted". "A case for review is not made out. Your Lordships may keep in mind the basic feature of the Indian Constitution, which is gender justice," she said, adding that on 12 February, when the temple reopens, women and especially Bindu and Kanakadurga, should be allowed to enter the temple.

Jaising's case was bolstered by advocate PV Dinesh who said, "Most of the review petitioners here are violators of the judgment of this honourable court, who were rioting on streets. Your Lordships should ask them on what grounds they have come here in review."

The pleas were filed by a bunch of religious groups, Lord Ayyappa devotees and politicians following the violent protests in favour and against the 28 September verdict. The Supreme Court has said that the writ petition will be heard later.

Meanwhile, four women who support the previous judgment have requested the court to be made a party in the case. Reshma CV, Shanila, Bindu A and Kanakadurga, hailing from Kerala, have filed applications seeking to be heard as intervenors.

Of the four, Bindu and Kanakadurga, aged 44 and 42, were the first to have stepped into the hallowed precincts after the top court's historic judgement lifted the ban on entry of girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age into the shrine of Lord Ayyappa, its eternally celibate deity.

The other two applicants — 33-year-old Reshma and 29-year-old Shanila, had twice attempted to enter the temple, first on January 15 and again on 19 January. However, they were heckled and prevented by some self proclaimed devotees after which they had to discontinue.

"There are thousands of women waiting for Darshan at Sabarimala and are waiting the final outcome of the review petitions, when this court would be pleased to hear and finally decide. The applicants may be permitted to intervene and make their submissions before this court when the Review Petitions are heard by this court, in order to oppose the Reviews," said Reshma and Shanila in their application.

Bindu and Kanakadurga, in their application said, "The judgment of this court on 28 September , 2018, upheld the dignity, liberty and equality of women of all ages and sent a strong message to the society against menstrual taboo. Proposed intervenors pray that they may also be heard to oppose the review, in case this court is inclined to review the judgment. It is in the interest of justice that the Proposed Intervenors are heard".

On 13 November last year, the apex court had agreed to hear in open court in January this year the pleas seeking review of its verdict, but had refused to stay the judgement.

However, on 22 January, the top court had said it may not start hearing the pleas, seeking review of Sabarimala verdict till 30 January as one of the judges of the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, was on medical leave. Justice Malhotra, the lone woman judge in the bench, had delivered the dissenting judgement in the case last year.

Meanwhile, a plea seeking contempt action against a thantry of the Sabarimala temple has been filed alleging that he had ordered cleaning of the premises.

With inputs from PTI, @utkarsh_aanand@barandbench

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Updated Date: Feb 06, 2019 15:42:47 IST

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