In a significant observation on the Sabarimala temple case, the Supreme Court said the right of a woman to pray is a constitutional right, and it should not be dependent on law.
To the uninitiated, the case refers to a bunch of petitions filed against the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the Sabarimala Temple, for banning the entry of women in the age group of 10-50.
As per customary law, women between the ages of 10 and 50—a period of time when they menstruate—cannot enter the temple premises since its principal deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered a celibate. In fact, there were reports at the start of the year that temple authorities made it mandatory for women to provide proof of their age before they are allowed inside the premises. “The said ban has statutory backing in the form of Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965,” says this Bar and Bench report. The temple entry ban was first challenged in the apex court by Indian Young Lawyers Association in 2006.
“Every woman is also the creation of God and why should there be discrimination against them in employment or worship,” observed Justice DY Chandrachud, a member of the five-judge Constitution Bench hearing the case. “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion… This means your right as a woman to pray is not dependent on legislation. It is your constitutional right.”
He also went onto add that not only restricting a women’s entry into a temple based on age is irrelevant while tagging it with menarche is even more so. These are some sharp observations.
Last October, when the apex court referred the case to a Constitution Bench, one major issue it raised was whether the entry ban on women age 10 to 50 amounts to discrimination against women and a violation of their constitutional rights.
The Kerala government, which has changed its position on quite a few occasions, finally stood behind the assertion that women should be allowed to offer prayers inside the temple premises.
“The State government’s stand is that women should be allowed to offer prayers in Sabarimala Temple. We have filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court explaining our stand. Now it has to take a decision. We are bound to obey its verdict,” said State minister K Surendran to reporters.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)