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This article is written by Pooja Bharadwaj.

Abstract

India is a country that is well known for its distinct and unique cultures and religions that allows each individual to follow their religion or faith. Women’s Rights is an exceptionally ethical topic that is encircled by ethical and moral concepts and has much antiquity. India is a diverse country, and it should be for the religious community and the worshippers to decide the critical religious practice, not for the court of law, it is an issue about personal faith. Whereas, Concepts of rationality can’t be raised in issues of religion until and unless there is any aggrieved person from that religion or Sec. Constitutional ethics and morality in a diverse country provide freedom to practice even irrational customs. 

This article highlights the idea of the separation between secularism regulated by the State, and religious practices in which it must not interfere and talks about why women devotees of menstruating age should not be allowed in the Sabarimala temple. Concerning the Sabarimala case, allowing PILs challenging religious practices could affect the notion of secularism of the country. Art. 25 of the Indian constitution should protect the Sabarimala shrine as it cannot be judged solely based on Art. 14 (Right to Equality) because equality exists among equals. 

A religious community and the worshippers have the freedom to believe and practice even if their beliefs are illogical or irrational. What needs to be argued is whether the courts should intervene with the essential religious practices or not. This article intends to discuss several precedents from the nineteenth century to the present day about the limits of the intervention of the judiciary and the predicament between law and religion. If the women worshippers truly honor the tradition, then the question that arises is who is right to pray is being infringed? If the women cannot have faith in the rituals of the Lord Ayyappa, then why would they want to go to pray at all? Does restraining women from entering inside the temple, from being precise ‘menstruating women’ qualify as discrimination under Art. 15?

Introduction

Sabarimala temple, a Hindu shrine, is devoted to Lord Ayyappa. The temple is situated at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta district in Kerala. It prohibits the entry of women, between the ages of 10-50, in their ‘menstruating years’ because it is a place of worship. Kerala high court in case of S.M. v. the Secretary, 1991 held that the exclusion of women entering into the temple was constitutional & just as it was a long-standing custom prevailing since time immemorial. In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association challenged the Sabrimala Temple’s custom of excluding women and further filed a public interest litigation petition before the Supreme Court. The main argument by the petitioners was stated as the custom violated the rights to equality and freedom of religion of female worshippers under Art. 14 and 25, respectively. 

The State argued that the final authority in this matter lies with the Temple’s priests. The TDB (Travancore Devaswom Board) has the legal authority to govern the Sabarimala Temple’s administration. Art. 26 of the Indian Constitution, guarantees a denomination based on religion the right to manage its internal religious affairs. Moreover, Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 protects the custom of Sabarimala temple. The rule permitted the exclusion of women from public places of worship if the exclusion was based on ‘custom.’ The Supreme Court heard the arguments from the petitioner challenging the prohibition of women of age ten to fifty years to Enter the Sabarimala temple. In 2018, the supreme court held, in a 4:1 majority, that the exclusion of women violated the fundamental rights of women between the ages of 10-50, and Rule 3(b) of the Public Worship Rules was unconstitutional. Justice Indu Malhotra believed that in a secular polity, it was not for the Courts to interfere in matters of religion, and the same must be left to those practicing the religion and faith. 

The concept of religion is not only a matter of spirituality hunt but a serious part of our society. Two essential questions came up in this landmark case. 

  1. The issue of maintainability of arguments of the petitioner concerning religious practices under Art. 32 of the Indian constitution.
  2. Does Art. 14 apply to such cases?

The main concern for Justice Indu Malhotra was that if SC entertains such PILs then the courts will get burdened by a huge number of cases regarding religious sentiments by persona non grata of Public Interest Litigation. Moreover, it doesn’t make sense for a person who does not belong to that specific religion and subscribes to the specific religion has no right to approach the court under constitutional remedies of the Indian Constitution because the person cannot be said to be aggrieved.

Two affidavits were filed by The State of Kerala, aiding the case of the Petitioners. However, The State wanted the appointment of an “appropriate commission” to give opinions and suggestions on whether women’s entry of 10 to 50 years should be allowed.

Historical Background 

The Sabarimala Temple is devoted to Lord Ayyappa. According to the traditions that are centuries old, it is the belief of the devotees of the temple that women of the age group of 10 to 50 are not allowed to enter this Temple. They believe that it is a crucial aspect of a ‘Naishtik Bramhachari,’ who practices strict penance and the severest form of celibacy.

Ancient folklores of Lord Ayyappa Swami 

King of Pandalam, also known as Manikandan, found Lord Ayyappa as a newborn near the river Pampa. King fittingly built the holy temple at Sabarimala and devoted it to God. The divinity of Lord Ayyappa in that temple was established in the way of a ‘Naishtik Brahmachari,’ which is a perpetual celibate. It is believed that God has explained how the pilgrimage to Sabarimala Temple is followed through a procedure by undertaking a Forty-one-day ‘Vratham.’ 

He, Lord Ayyappa, commenced the ‘Vratham’ for forty-one days before he entered Sabarimala Temple to unite with the divinity. The complete procedure of the observed by a worshipper is to imitate the path of Lord Ayyappa. ‘Bhuthanatha Geetha.’ Aka ‘Sthal Purana,’ Reveals the way of worship at Sabarimala temple in the words of the Lord himself. 

The Forty- one-day “Vratham” is a custom and practice observed by the worshippers. Forty-one days ‘Vratham’ aims to discipline and teach self-control and train the pilgrims for the development of divine awareness leading to self-actualization. To keep the body and mind pure, it is essential to observe the sattvic lifestyle and brahmacharya before undertaking the pilgrimage. It is considered as an essential requirement of the forty-one days vratham to withdraw oneself from the avaricious world and enter into the divine path.

Naishtika Brahmacharya 

The main reason for restricting the entry of women of the age 10-50 is because Lord Ayyappa took the pledge of a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari,’ i.e., protecting semen from dropping to the floor or leaking down as this hampers the divine progress. 

Shri Swami Sivananda has defined the purest meaning of being a brahmacharya. In his words, it meant actions that lead an individual to self-actualization. It refers to the self-control an individual has on his semen. Brahmacharya is referred to as self-restraint, predominantly restraint over the sexual parts of the human body or freedom from lust in thought, word, and deed. 

Firm self-restraint is not only from sexual intercourse but also sexual expressions including thoughts even during the sleep, from sexual acts and all kinds of sexual carry-out. Thus, it includes eternal nonparticipation from involvement in stimulating thoughts and voluptuous daydreams. 

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Religious stance of Sabarimala Temple 

Religion is a concern of belief. Religious faiths are supposed to be holy and pure by the people who have faith. Dependence was placed on the precedent in Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Swamiar Thirtha Swamiar of Shirur Mutt where the definition and meaning of religion was extracted from an American case, i.e. “The term ‘Religion’ refers to one’s views of his relation to his Creator (God) and to the obligations they impose of respect and worship for His Being and character and obedience to His Will.”

When a worshipper observes the forty-one days ‘Vratham,’ the worshipper excludes himself from the females in their home. 

The “Vratham” consists of:

  • Abandonment of all kinds of physical and sexual relationship with the husband/wife;
  • Abandoning all the intoxicating items including alcohol, cigarettes, food which is tamasic and drugs;
  • Existing alone and excluding oneself from the family members and staying in an isolated room or a separate building;
  • Abstaining from meeting with women in day to day basis, which also includes an individuals’ daughter or sister or any other female family member;
  • Making one’s own meal; 
  • Walking barefoot;
  • Undertaking cleanliness, which includes taking a bath twice a day before doing puja;
  • Wearing upper garments and black-clothed mundu;
  • Consuming just one meal a day.

After the 40 days of Vratham, on the Forty-first day, after Prarthana, the devotee carries the stimuli and begins the journey of worshipping the Lord Ayappa by climbing the eighteen stairs for darshan in ‘Sannidhanam’ the process includes a walk, barefoot from River Pampa into the dense forest for thirteen kilometers which is 3000 feet to the Sannidhanam. In the Chronicle mention has been made about the tradition and practice predominant at Sabarimala Temple. Reference was made to the subsequent passage from the review: “…old women and young girls may come to the temple, but those who have attained puberty and to a particular period of life are forbidden to approach or enter, as all sexual intercourse in that vicinity is averse to this deity…”

There are few essential elements for a custom to be termed as valid among which time immemorial is a must. It has to be morally and ethically correct and in accordance with the law. It has to be reasonable and continuous. All the customs and traditions have been followed properly at the temple since time immemorial and continuously. The restriction on entering of female class in Sabarimala is not entire or worldwide as it is restricted to a specific group based on their age in one specific temple, only with the view to preserve the character of Lord Ayyappa. Young girls below the age of ten years and women above the age of fifty years are allowed to worship at Sabarimala Temple. The practice is crucial to preserve the holy and pure form and eccentric of the deity. 

Legality of Sabarimala Temple 

All the criticisms and objections that were voiced against this custom were not raised by the believers of Lord Ayappa whereas by the social activists. There are about one thousand temples devoted to the puja of Lord Ayyappa, where Lord Ayyappa is in a different form than that of the ‘Naishtik Brahmachari.’ 

In those temples, the method of prayer differs from Sabarimala Temple, since Lord Ayyappa has manifested himself in a different form. 

The restriction on women in approaching the temple is a portion of the vital practice of the Temple, and the journey is observed by the worshippers. The main intention is to keep the pilgrims distracted from anything that is related to sexual presence because the vital aim of this journey undertaken by the worshippers is to attain the successful practice of spiritual self-actualization.

This custom is violating women’s right to gender equality- if, as a class, females were prohibited or banned from entering, it would refer to social biases and discrimination. Nevertheless, the present scenario is way different than that. Young females below the age of ten and women above fifty are allowed inside the temple to offer their puja. Moreover, there is no kind of restraint on women to enter in the other temples. Young females below the age of ten and women above fifty and male of the same group of age have an even handed connection with the motive pursued to be accomplished, i.e., to protect the character and appearance of the deity as a ‘Naishtik Brahmachari,’ i.e., holy and marvelous and protect the atonement observed by the worshippers of Lord Ayappa.

Hence, permanent restraint on the female class per se does not exist. These practices are reliable with the ‘Nishta’ or ‘Naishtik Buddhi’. Since it’s the vital reason behind the tradition it can be said that there is nothing to offend the dignity of the female class as there is no violation. In the case of V. Devaru & others. vs Mysore & Ors. It was said that: “The Gods have distinct and unique forms attributed to them, and their worship at home and in temples is intended as a way of achieving salvation.”

In Tilkayat S.G. Maharaj et cetera. vs State of Rajasthan & others., the importance was laid “on the method of worship adopted as his devotees worshipped Lord Krishna in the form of a child. Religion does not just lay down a code of ethical rules for its devotees to accept but also comprises rituals and observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are regarded as integral parts of the religion.” It depends on the judgment in V. Devaru & others. vs Mysore & Ors Case, it was contended that “religion, in this formulation, is a much broader concept, and consist of:

  • Ceremonial law regarding the construction of Temples;
  • Installation of Idols therein;
  • Place of the consecration of the principal God and Goddess;
  • Where the idols of other Devatas are to be installed;
  • Conduct of worship of the deities;
  • Where the worshippers are to stand for prayer;
  • Purificatory ceremonies and their method of performance;
  • Who is entitled to enter for worship; where they are allowed to stand and worship; and, how the worship is to be conducted.”

Respondents categorically asserted that the worshippers of the deity establish a denomination based on religion that follows the ‘Ayyappan Dharma’, where men pilgrims are known as ‘Ayyappans’ and women pilgrims below ten and above fifty are called ‘Malikapurams.’ A believer has to abide by the centuries-old traditions of Sabarimala Temple if he is to worship the “pathinettu padika” and enter into the Sabarimala Temple. There is a set of faiths and beliefs of the ‘Ayyappaswamis,’ and the group of the believers of the deity creates a separate denomination based on religion which has different and unique practices. 

The following opinion from the obiter dicta of Dr. Subramanian Swamy vs State of Tamil Nadu & others was based upon: “The statement that Dikshitars are a denomination based on religion or Sec. thereof is an assertion of their status and making such declaration is, in fact, a judgment in rem.

Constitutional Rights

Applicability of Article 25

Art. 25 of the Indian Constitution ensures to “all persons the freedom of conscience and the right to freely confess, practice, and preach religion.” However, this is topic to public law, morality and well-being, and the other statutes of Part III of the Constitution.

The power to move the SC under constitutional remedies (Art. 32) for infringement of FR has to be based on an argument that the Petitioners’ rights to pray and worship in Sabarimala have been infringed. To examine the validity of a denomination based on religion, at the example of an association who are “involved in social developmental causes and activities specifically activities regarding women empowerment and making them conscious of their rights would need the Court to decide religious questions at the request of people who do not pledge to this belief. The freedom to worship and pray, asserted by the Petitioners, has to be established on the basis of the claim of a belief in the particular manifestation of the numen in this Holy place.”

Justice Indu quoted that “The absence of this bare minimum terms must not be seen as a sheer technicality, but an indispensable element to maintain a challenge for impugning practices of any religious group, or denomination. Allowing public interest litigation in ethical issues would open the floodgates to intruders to question and object religious beliefs and practices, even if the petitioner is not a believer of a particular religion or a devotee of a specific temple. The risks are even graver for religious minorities if such petitions are entertained.”

Art. 25(1) talks about “every individual the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate his/her religion. The right of a person to worship a particular God and Goddess, under the doctrines of that faith or Temple, is protected by Art. 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.”

In the present case, the pilgrims of this Temple believe in the manifestation of Lord Ayyappa as a ‘Naishtik Brahmachari.’ The worshippers of this Temple have not challenged the practices followed by this Temple, based on the essential characteristics of the deity. 

In the case of H. M. of Nurenburg vs Superintendent, Presidency Jail, Calcutta & others, it was held that “a person could impugn a particular law under Art. 32 only if he is oppressed by it.”

Precedents under Art. 25 of the Indian Constitution have raised their voice against the actions of the state and not been reduced in a Public Interest Litigation. A descriptive list of such cases is provided below:

  1. In the case of Commissioner, H. R. Endowment, Madras, the court inferred Art.s 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution in charge of managing its affairs. 
  2. In Sri V. Devaru & Ors.., the question of whether the rights under Art. 26(b) is subject to Art. 25(2)(b) was in question who belongs to the sect aka Gowda Saraswat Brahmins.
  3. In the case of M. Motidas vs S.P. Shahi, the SO In Charge of Hindu Religious Trust & others, “the Constitutional validity of actions undertaken by the Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts under the Bihar Hindu Religious Trusts Act, 1950, was considered as being violative of the Fundamental Rights of Mahants of specific Maths or Asthals guaranteed, among other things, under Art.s 25 and 26.”
  4. In the case of the Durgaha Comm., Ajmer & Anr. vs Seyed Hussain Ali & Ors., “the issue was the Constitutionality of the Durgah Khwaja Saheb Act, 1955, given Art.s 25 and 26, among other things, The Khadims claimed to be a part of a denomination based on religion by the name of Chishtia Cookies.”
  5. In the case of Sardar S. T. S. Saheb vs the State of Bombay, the court tested the “Constitutionality of the Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act, 1949 based because it infringed the Fundamental Rights which were guaranteed under Art.s 25 and 26.”

In a diverse society comprised of people with diverse faiths, beliefs, and traditions, to entertain Public Interest Litigation challenging religious practices followed by any group, sect, or denomination, it could cause severe harm to the Constitutional and secularism of this country.

Applicability of Article 14 

Religious customs and practices cannot be merely tested on the benchmark of Art. 14 and the rationality principles surrounded therein. Art. 25 provides the equal entitlement of every individual explicitly to practice their religion freely. Equal treatment under Art. 25 of the Indian Constitution is based on the conditions by the fundamental views and practices of any religious activities. “Equality in the matters of belief must be seen in the context of the worshippers of the same religion.” The twin-test for determining the validity of classification under Art. Fourteen of the Indian Constitution is:

  • The classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia; and
  • It must have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the impugned law.

The difficulty lies in applying the tests under Art. 14 to religious practices, which are also protected as Fundamental Rights under our Indian Constitution. It is not for the courts to examine and determine which of these practices of a faith are to be struck down, except if they are pernicious, oppressive, or a social evil, like Sati.

Applicability of Article 15

Art. 15 of the Indian Constitution “prohibits treatment of persons differently on the ground of ‘sex’ alone. The limited restriction on the entry of women of the specified age-group but in the deep-rooted belief of the worshippers that the deity in the Sabarimala Temple has manifested in the form of a ‘Naishtik Brahmachari.’”

Concerning the right under Art. 15 of the Indian Constitution, the Sabarimala Temple would be included in the expression “places of public resort,” as it occurs in Art. Fifteen clause (2) (b).

9. Prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste or sex- The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or any of them.

  • In particular, no citizen shall, on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition concerning:
  1. Access to the shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainments, or
  2. The use of wells, tanks, roads, and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of the revenues of the State or dedicated to the use of the general public.
  3. Nothing in this Art. shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

Applicability of Article 17

The aim and intention of Art. 17 were to prohibit untouchability based on ‘caste’ in the Hindu religion. No kind of discrimination either on the basis of caste or religion is practiced at the deity. The traditions followed by the pilgrims at Sabarimala do not flow from any work related to untouchability under Art. Seventeen. The centuries-old tradition is not the basis of any kind of so-called impurity. 

“The preposition of the Petitioners that the restriction imposed on the entry of women during the notified age group amounts to a form of ‘Untouchability’ under Art. 17 of the Constitution is liable to be rejected for the reasons stated from now on. All kinds of exclusion would not tantamount to untouchability. Art. 17 refers to the practice of untouchability as committed in the Hindu community against Harijans or people from depressed classes, and not women, as contended by the Petitioners.” 

Applicability of Article 26

Art. 26 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom to every denomination based on religion thereof, the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes, and to manage their issues in matters of religion. 

In the case of S.P. M. v. Union of India & others., this Court, while relying upon the judgment in Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, held that “the words ‘denomination based on religion’ in Art. 26 of the Indian Constitution must take their color from the term ‘religion’, and if this is so, the expression ‘religious faith’ must satisfy three conditions: 80. (1) It must be a collection of the individuals who have a system of beliefs or doctrines which they regard as encouraging to their spiritual well-being, that is, a common faith;

  1. common organization; and
  2. designation by a distinctive and unique name.” 

The Respondents have voiced a plausible & robust case that the pilgrims of the Sabarimala have the characteristics of a denomination based on religious, or sect, for the reasons computed below:

  1. The pilgrims of the deity at Sabarimala Temple constitute a religious creed, or sect thereof, as the case may be, following the ‘Ayyappan-Dharma.’ They are chosen by a different name wherein all-male devotees are called ‘Ayyappans’; all-female devotees below the age of 10 years and above the age of 50 years, are called ‘Malika-purnams.’ A pilgrim on their first trip to Sabarimala Temple is called a ‘Kanni Ayyappan.’ The devotees are referred to as ‘Ayyappa-swamis.’ or ‘Swamis’. A devotee has to observe the ‘Vratham,’ and follow the code of behavior, before embarking upon the ‘Pathinettu-Padikal’ to get into the Temple at Sabarimala.
  2. The devotees observe a recognizable set of ideas, customs and usages, and code of conduct which are being practiced since time immemorial and are founded on a common faith. The religious practices being followed in this Temple are founded on the belief that the Lord has manifested Himself in the form of a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari.’ It is for the reason that this nishtha that women between the ages of 10 to 50 years are not permitted to enter the Temple. The practices followed by this denomination based on religion, or sect thereof, as the case may be, establish a code of behavior, which is a part of the vital spiritual discipline associated with this pilgrimage. As per the customs and practices in the Sabarimala Temple, the Forty one-day ‘Vratham’ is a requirement precedent for undertaking the journey to Sabarimala Temple. 

iii. When the former State of Travancore merged with the Union of India, the responsibility of paying royalties for the landed estates was transferred to the Government of India. The Travancore Devaswom Board fulfills the Temple. It does not take funds from the Consolidated Fund of India, which would give it the character of ‘State’ or ‘other authorities’ under Art. Twelve of the Constitution.”

The Constitution promises a place for diverse religions, creeds, denominations, and sects thereof to co-exist in a secular society. The term religious denomination must receive an explanation i.e., in the improvement of the Constitutional object of a pluralistic world.

Rule 3(b)

Sec. 3 of 1965 Act states: 

3. … n the case of a place of public worship which is a temple established for the benefit of any denomination based on religion or groups or Sec.s thereof, the provisions of this Sec. shall be subject to the right of that group or denomination based on religion or Sec., as the case may be, to manage its affair in matters of religion.

The pertinent citation of Rule 3 of 1965 Rules is also imitated below: 

Rule 3. The classes of persons mentioned hereunder shall not be entitled to offer worship in any place of public worship or bath in or use the water of any sacred tank, well, spring or watercourse appurtenant to a place of public worship whether located within or outside the grounds thereof, or any sacred place including a street or pathways, a hill or hill lock, or a road, which is necessary for obtaining access to the place of public worship- (b) Women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship.”

Sec. 3(b) of the 1965 Act states that “every place of public worship that is open for Hindus generally, or to any Sec. or class thereof, shall be open for all Sec.s and classes of Hindus; and no Hindu of whatsoever Sec. or class shall, in any way be prevented, obstructed or discouraged from entering such place of public worship or from worshipping or from offering prayers there or performing any religious service therein, in a like manner and to the same extent as any other Hindu of whatsoever Sec. or class may enter, worship, pray or perform.” 

Sec. 2(c) of the 1965 Act describes “Sec. or class to include any division, sub-division, caste, sub-caste, sect, or denomination whatsoever. Sec. 4(1) empowers the making of regulations for the maintenance of order and decorum in the place of public worship and the due observance of the religious rites and ceremonies performed therein.” 

The Petitioners have not objected to the provision of Sec. 3 as unconstitutional on the basis of any ground. The provision to Sec 3 makes immunity in cases of denomination based on religions or sects as to regulate their affairs in issues of religion. “The argument of the Petitioners that Rule 3(b) is ultra vires Sec. 3 of the 1965 Act fails to take into consideration the provision to Sec. 3 of the 1965 Act. Sec. 3 applies to all the places of public worship, while the clause applies to temples founded for the benefit of any denomination based on religion or sect thereof. Hence, Rule 3(b) is not ultra vire.”

Essential Practises Doctrine

This Court has applied the ‘essential practice’ which provides security to religious practices. ‘Essential practice’ test was put up in Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt. The Court drew on the words “practice of religion” in Article 25(1) of the Indian constitution to hold that it keeps safe not only the rights of the religious belief as well as the tasks done in the endeavor of a religion. 

The ‘essential practices test’ was recapped in Ratilal Panachand Gandhi vs. The State of Bombay and Others., where the small clarity of “religion” specified by the Bombay HC was discarded. It was apprehended that all religious practices or performances of acts in pursuance of religious beliefs were as much a part of religion, like faith or belief in particular doctrines. 

In Durgah Committee, Ajmer and Anr. vs. Syed Hussain Ali & Others, the ‘essential practices test’ was talked about by a Constitution Bench in the following way:

33…While we are dealing with this point it may not be out of place incidentally to strike a note of caution and observe that in order that the practices in question should be treated as a part of the religion they must be regarded by the said religion as its essential and integral part;… Similarly, even the practices though religious may have sprung from merely superstitious beliefs and may in that sense be extraneous and unessential accretions to religion itself. … in other words, the protection must be confined to such religious practices as are an essential and an integral part of it and no other.

The Court declared the ‘essential practices test’ which was discussed in the past conclusions in Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt, and Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. The State of Bombay & Ors. Insofar as it underlined the self-governance of religions to recognize fundamental or basic practices, in Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji Maharaj, etc. v. State of Rajasthan & Ors., it was clarified that courts would intervene where conflicting evidence is produced in respect of rival contentions as to competing for religious practices. 

The method to check the required practice test would be about the practices that have been in place since ancient times, which would have been written in the religious texts of this temple. If any practice in a specific temple can be traced back to antiquity and is inextricably linked to the temple, it should be an important religious practice of that temple.

The said restriction has been consistent, followed at Sabarimala Temple, as is borne out from the Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States published in two parts in 1893 and 1901. In this case, the character of the Sabarimala temple is distinctly based on centuries-old religious practices followed to preserve the manifestation of the deity and the worship associated with it. 

Conclusion

Sabarimala is the red-hot debated topic; still after the Supreme Court’s verdict, the matter does not seem to be find a solution. The verdict to allow women of age 10-50 years to go inside the temple has troubled the devotees leading to protest now-a-days but, the moment has come which requires resolving the issue with diligence and finding a solution which is in the middle path. Nowadays, it is the right time for everyone to let go of the narrow-minded feelings of fundamentalism and work together. The dissenting opinion of Justice Indu Malhotra must be respected as it is right to profess religion as it was not the whole class of females who were discriminated against for no good reason and were considered impure because of their biological menstrual feature. 

It is greatly believed that the verdict of the Supreme Court which allowed women to go inside Sabarimala was acceptable of the constitution and in favor for the public at large as discrimination did not take place. The Supreme Court noticed that disallowing women of a particular age at Sabarimala temple is based on the “patriarchal” belief that the dominant status of a man in society makes him capable of performing austerity. The Constitution Bench in this case was lef by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra said the court could not accept a method mired in patriarchy and fanaticism. The ban seems to have emanated from the “paternalistic notion” that women cannot perform the penance of Forty one days. 

Disallowing menstruating women which were considered ‘impure’ could lead to the form of untouchability. Thus, the critical question arises whether the verdict given by the supreme court is reformative or disruptive? By disallowing females of a particular age visiting the temple, the society supports adamant taboos about purity and pollution. By demolishing these types of rules, we gently strip society of the power to announce someone ‘impure’ because of birth or menstruation. 

Dr B. R. Ambedkar once argued that by not allowing untouchables to enter religious places was a powerful method of increasing the social discriminations against them. The court should see this as an opportunity to re-examine and reform the historical shortcomings if there are any. The court should see beyond the essential practices doctrine and look this case which denying women not only of their rights to freedom of religion but also of equal rights and access to public places. 

The main reason for not allowing the women of a particular group to enter into the temple was because The idol of Lord Ayappa in Sabarimala is known to be a symbol of Naishtika Brahmachari(celibate). Article 25 (2) which throws “open public Hindu religious institutions to all classes and sections of society can be applied only to social reforms, and it does not apply to matters of religion covered under Article 26 (b) of the Constitution.” Article 26 (b) provides “the right to every religious denomination to manage its affairs in matters of religion.” The Court in Ritu Prasad Sharma vs State of Assam (2015), held that “religious customs which are protected under Articles 25 and 26 are immune from challenge under other provisions of Part III of the Constitution.”

The main question that remains is that is it patriarchy or just a custom? Is there any discrimination against women even though women above 50 years are allowed to approach the temple? The five-judge bench gave their judgement with a 4:1 majority and yet there have not been any code of conduct set up for women to enter the temple for their safety. Reactions to the ban lifting are not what the citizens were expecting when they wanted to remove the restriction. Even today, when a woman enters that temple, she does not feel safe. How is someone supposed to worship when they are not peaceful? 

Bibliography

Cases 

  1. Young Lawyers Association & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors. SC (2018) 
  2. Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. The State of Bombay & Ors. (1954) SCR 1055: AIR 1954 SC 388
  3. Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt 1954 SCR 1005
  4. Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji Maharaj etc. v. State of Rajasthan & Ors.
  5. Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. The State of Bombay & Ors. AIR 1954 SC 388
  6. S.P. Mittal v. Union of India & Ors
  7. Sri V. Devaru & Ors. v. State of Mysore & Ors., 1958 AIR 255
  8. M. Moti Das v. S.P. Sahi, The Special Officer in Charge of Hindu Religious Trust & Ors. 1959 SC 942, 
  9. Durgah Comm., Ajmer & Anr. v. Syed Hussain Ali & Ors 
  10. Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb v. the State of Bombay
  11. H. Muller of Nurenburg v. Superintendent, Presidency Jail, Calcutta & Ors. AIR 1955 SC 367
  12. Dr S. Swamy v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors
  13. Sri V. Devaru & Ors. v. State of Mysore & Ors
  14. Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji Maharaj etc. v. State of Rajasthan & Ors AIR 1963 SC 1638
  15. S. Mahendran v. The Secretary AIR 1993 Ker 42
  16. Riju Prasad Sharma & Ors. The State of Assam & Ors(2015) 9 SCC 461 

Statutes

  1. Rule 3 (B) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965
  2. Constitution of India (Art.s 14, 15, 17, 25 and 26)

Literature and Books

Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States, Lieutenants Ward and Conner (First Reprint 1994, Government of Kerala) at p. 137

  1. H.M. Seervai, Constitutional Law of India: A Critical Commentary, Vol. II (4th Ed., Reprint 1999), at Pg. 1274, para 12.35.
  2. Draft Constitution of India, Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly of India (Manager Government of India Press, New Delhi, 1948). 

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