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SC verdict on Sabarimala temple: Board says 'necessary arrangements' will be made; activists, politicians react

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that women will be allowed entry into Lord Ayyappa's Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The apex court allowed women access to the iconic temple, with the constitutional bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra saying that the rules put in place by the temple administration violated Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution.

The judgment in the iconic 27-year-old case came amid strong objections from women's rights groups as religious leaders relied on Article 26(b) of the Constitution. Prominent leaders from across political, religious, and social groups have reacted to the landmark judgment with praise for the rationale of the bench and also lauded the pro-gender equality verdict. The administrative authority of the temple, Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) said they accepted the ruling and that they would start work to implement it. Here are a few of the reactions:

Sabarimala temple head priest Kandararu Rajeevaru said that he was "disappointed" but also that he accepted the Supreme Court's verdict. Rajeevaru is the supreme authority on matters related to the rites and customs in the temple. He said that the temple "may have to" implement the verdict, adding that he will discuss the issue with the government and the Devaswom  Board.

The TDB said that the organisation was neither happy nor disappointed with the verdict, and that "necessary arrangements" will be made to "to implement this order". However, ANI reported that TDB president A Padmakumar said, "We will go for a review petition after getting support from other religious heads."

According to sources, Padmakumar also said, "The board will take steps to allow entry to women in the temple in consultations with the Thantri and Pandalam Royal Family." CNN-News18 reported that immediately after the verdict, activist Rahul Easwar said that he would file a review petition against the verdict.

Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju said that Justice Indu Malhotra's judgment, which was the only dissenting judgment and held that it was "not for the court to interefere in religious practices", was correct judgment. Katju said, "Majority is wrong. With this judgment and Section 497 (Adultery law) the Supreme Court has embarked on a perilous unpredictable path of over-activism like US' Supreme Court in 1930s utterly lacking in self-restraint, heading for we know not where."

Akhila Bharathiya Ayyappa Seva Sangham, a body of the Ayyappa devotees across the country, which opposed women’s entry into Sabarimala said that they will explore the possibility of filing a review petition against the verdict. “We will meet tomorrow and take a final decision on the next course of action,” said Sangham president Mohan K Nair. He told Firstpost that their considered opinion on the issue was that the entry of women of the menstruating age will lead to dilution of the sanctity of the temple.

Travancore Royal Family representative Sasikumara Verma said that the court had relied heavily on the argument that there was discrimination against women in the Sabarimala temple. “This is not true. There is only a restriction on the women of certain age. This is a reasonable restriction. I hope the court will realize this and correct the decision,” he added.

Verma pointed out that the bench that took the decision did not contain anybody who had a correct understanding of the shrine and its customs. The verdict would have been different if at least two of the five judges had visited Sabarimala during the season and experienced the spiritual ambience at the temple, he said.

Ready To Wait campaign activist Smitha P Devi said that the verdict had reduced Sabarimala to an ordinary temple. “Sabarimala is not merely a temple. It is a school of advaitha founded by Lorda Ayyappa on the basis of values of brahmacharya. With the verdict, the Supreme Court has closed the only true advaitha school in the country. I am very sad about the judgment and I don’t know how to react to it,” she added.

According to sources, some women devotees in Kerala did not openly support the petition filed by five women lawyers from Delhi as they did not consider them devotees and believed that their plea had not arisen from faith.

However, gender equality activists reacted with praise for the Supreme Court's decision, hoping that an era of stronger gender equality had been brought in with the judgment.

Bhumata Brigade founder Trupti Desai, who had planned to take a group of menstruating women to shrine last year in protest against the restrictions imposed on the entry of menstruating women to the temple, has described the judgment as historic. She said, "Menstruation is a natural process and not impure." According to sources, she said she will lead a group of menstruating women to Sabarimala soon. The pilgrim season is expected to begin on 16 November. Desai has fought for women's rights in religion extensively, and in April 2016 won access for women to the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra.

ANI quoted WCD minister Maneka Gandi as saying, "It’s a wonderful decision. It opens up and brings the way forward for Hinduism to become even more inclusive and not a property of one caste or one sex."

National Commission for Women chief Rekha Sharma said she "welcomed the decision". ANI quoted Sharma as saying, "Now women can choose if they want to go or not. Earlier it was imposed on them in the name of religion. When right to equality and religion are there, right to equality should win."

Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy said that he was "happy" that the apex court decided that "gender equality in worship should be followed in Sabarimala". Swamy added, "This is what I had been advocating."

Kerala Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran welcomed the verdict. He said that the judgment was in tune with the raging debate over the gender justice. Surendran pointed out that, "The Left Democratic Front was always for gender justice and accordingly it had reversed the previous government’s stand and supported the petition." The minister said that the government will support the Devaswom Board to make arrangements for the entry of women to the hill shrine.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said that the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had opposed the entry of women into Sabarimala when it was in power in the state as they believed that every place of worship had its own customs and traditions that need to be protected. However, he said that the UDF would accept the verdict as everybody is obliged to abide by the court orders.

With inputs from agencies and 101 Reporters

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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2018 14:02:07 IST