The Sabarimala temple, a pilgrimage centre visited by over 100 million devotees every year, doesn’t allow women of menstruating age inside its precincts. Now the Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue, and is questioning the age-old practice.
Although it hasn’t yet delivered a verdict, the Court has said that women cannot be forbidden from entering the temple — a prohibitory rule can only take into consideration religious beliefs, not gender.
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“The temple cannot prohibit entry (women), except on the basis of religion. Unless you have a constitutional right, you cannot prohibit entry,” a judge said.
The Indian constitution does now permit discrimination on the basis on gender.
The temple does not allow women between ages of 10 and 50 to enter the hilltop shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyapa. This means that only women who haven’t yet achieved puberty and women who have crossed menopause can enter.
The Supreme Court made these observations when hearing a 10-year-old case filed by the Young Lawyers Association, which includes many women lawyers, against the powerful Travancore Devasom Board. The Court also asked how anyone could be certain that no woman had entered the temple in its 1,500-year-old history.
The Sabarimala temple is located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve among the Western Ghats in Kerala.