Women's entry inside Sabarimala temple: Supreme Court says religious practices should conform to constitutional principles

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra referred to articles 25 and 26 (Freedom to practice religion) of the Constitution and said that a person can only be restrained on the grounds of 'public health, public order and morality'.

Press Trust of India July 24, 2018 17:03:50 IST
Women's entry inside Sabarimala temple: Supreme Court says religious practices should conform to constitutional principles

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that all the customary or religious practices, like banning entry of women in the age group of 10-50 years into the famous Sabarimala temple, will have to conform to constitutional principles.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra referred to articles 25 and 26 (Freedom to practice religion) of the Constitution and said that a person can only be restrained on the grounds of "public health, public order and morality". "After 1950 (when the Constitution came into being) everything is subject to Constitution," said the bench, also comprising justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

Womens entry inside Sabarimala temple Supreme Court says religious practices should conform to constitutional principles

Crowds at the Sabarimala temple. Reuters

The observation came when senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Travancore Devaswom Board which runs the over 800-year-old Lord Ayyappa temple, said that the court has to test as to whether the practice is based on "bona fide belief" which is being practised for centuries by a community.

He then said that women are not allowed in mosques across the country and testing these practices based on belief would open "pandora's box". The bench told Singhvi that it was the duty of the Devaswom Board to establish that the practice of banning women of a certain age group was the essential and integral part of the religious practice.

The bench also pointed out the contradictions in the submissions made by the Board before the Kerala High Court and said that it was the accepted position that women of all age group had been allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple during the first five days of the pilgrimage and after that their entry was barred only on the ground that the crowd used to swell.

In the earlier hearing of 19 July, the apex court had questioned the rationale behind banning the entry of women in the 10-50 age group into the temple in Kerala, saying menstruation may begin before the age of 10 and menopause may hit women much earlier. The court was apparently not in agreement with the plea of the Devaswom Board that women of that age group were barred as they cannot observe purity and "penance" for a period of 41 days, a condition for undertaking the pilgrimage.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, had said that the exclusion of women of that particular age group was akin to untouchability which was prohibited under Article 17 of the Constitution. The bench, however, was not in agreement with the plea and said that Article 17 (abolition of untouchability) of the Constitution may not be applicable as the women, who are barred from entering, can also belong to upper castes and the provision relates to Scheduled Castes only.

The Kerala government had earlier told the court that it supported the entry of women of all age groups into the shrine. The apex court had observed that the fundamental right of freedom to practice religion is provided to "all persons" by the Constitution and women have the right to enter and pray like men at the shrine.

The bench had also termed as "absurd" the notification of the board banning entry of women in the 10-50 age group. The plea challenging the ban has been filed by petitioners Indian Young Lawyers Association and others. The apex court had on 13 October last year referred the issue to a Constitution bench after framing five "significant" questions including whether the practice of banning entry of women of that particular age group into the temple amounted to discrimination and violated their fundamental rights under the Constitution.

Updated Date:

also read

SC directs West Bengal Assembly Speaker to decide on disqualification of turncoat BJP MLA Mukul Roy
Politics

SC directs West Bengal Assembly Speaker to decide on disqualification of turncoat BJP MLA Mukul Roy

The bench said it hoped that the Speaker proceeds with the matter on 21 December and decides the same in accordance with law

COVID-19 pandemic offers perfect opportunity to improve India's legal system through disruptive tech, here's why
India

COVID-19 pandemic offers perfect opportunity to improve India's legal system through disruptive tech, here's why

Big data and machine learning can transform how we handle dispute resolution and may do wonders

High Court constitutes 3-member panel under ex-SC judge to probe Manika Batra's allegation of match-fixing
Sports

High Court constitutes 3-member panel under ex-SC judge to probe Manika Batra's allegation of match-fixing

Batra, who was left out of the Indian contingent for the Asian Table Tennis Championships, had moved the court earlier this year alleging that the national coach Soumyadeep Roy pressurised her to throw away an Olympic qualifier match in favour of one of his trainees.