Sabarimala case: Annual pilgrimage season to the Lord Ayyappa shrine was riddled with protests.
New Delhi: Amid a huge backlash to the entry of young women into Kerala's Sabarimala temple, five judges of the Supreme Court are hearing more than 60 petitions that urge a rethink of the verdict that made it possible. In September, the court had opened the temple doors to women between the ages of 10 and 50, ending the traditional ban. But only two women have managed to enter the temple since. The rest had been forced to turn back by the huge protests by right-wing groups that often involved the use of force, threats and intimidation.
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There is no need to review the September verdict that lifted the decades-old ban on the entry of women of reproductive age into the Sabarimala temple, the Kerala government told the Supreme Court today. The court had said, "the practice of age restriction can't be treated as an essential religious practice".
One of the petitioners told the court that the celibate nature of the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, supports exclusionary practices. "Devotees going to Sabrimala can't question the customs and have to accept it... Untouchability has nothing to with the custom," the petitioner said.
Arguing that it is not necessary to review the verdict, the Kerala government said that the practice of not allowing menstruating women inside the shrine is not an essential part of Hindu traditions. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said it was his duty to implement the top court's order. It triggered a political war between the state government and the opposition BJP and the Congress.
Justice Indu Malhotra, who is part of the Constitutional bench, was of the view that it was not for courts to determine which religious practices are to be struck down except in issues of social evils like 'Sati'.
The annual pilgrimage season, which recently got over, was riddled with protests that often turned violent as devotees of Lord Ayyappa, a deity believed to be celibate, tried every trick to stop women from entering the shrine.
Kerala Police was told to provide round-the-clock security to the two women after they approached the Supreme Court seeking protection.
The Kerala government had told the Supreme Court last month that as many as 51 women of menstrual age entered the temple since the verdict. But controversy erupted after some women on the list were found to be aged above 50 years and at least one of them turned out to be a man.
On Monday, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran informed the Kerala assembly that only two women of reproductive age had offered prayers at the Lord Ayyappa shrine. He quoted a report of the temple executive officer this time.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who earlier spoke in favour of allowing women of all ages into Sabarimala, eventually said there was also merit in the argument of traditionalists. Admitting to the change in his stance, Mr Gandhi said he would not "be able to give an open and shut position on this".