Sabarimala verdict: "Religion is for one dignity with identity," the Supreme Court said
New Delhi: Women of all ages must be allowed in Kerala's renowned Sabarimala temple, the Supreme Court ordered today, ending a ban that prevented women and girls between 10 and 50 years from entering the shrine that draws millions of pilgrims every year. "Restrictions can't be treated as essential religious practice," the top court said in a majority four-one judgement, calling the custom "almost like untouchability". The only woman on the five-judge constitution bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, dissented, saying the court should not interfere in religious practices.
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Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said devotion cannot be subjected to discrimination and patriarchal notion cannot be allowed to trump equality in devotion.
For centuries, women of menstruating age were restricted from entering the Sabarimala temple as its deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered by devotees to be a celibate. The hilltop temple remains open only for 127 days in a year and can be accessed through a forest.
"Lord Ayyappa is not a separate denomination," said Justice Misra, who retires as Chief Justice of India on October 2. "All devotees are equal and there cannot be any discrimination on the basis of gender," he asserted.
Delivering another in a series of landmark rulings in his last week as the country's top judge, Chief Justice Misra said: "Rules based on biological characteristics will not muster constitution."
Concurring with the Chief Justice, Justice DY Chandrachud said restricting menstruating women from entering the temple was almost like untouchability. "Religion cannot be the cover to deny women right to worship. To treat women as children of a lesser God is to blink at constitutional morality," he said.
The head priest of Sabarimala, Kandaru Rajeevaru, said in his first response: "We are disappointed but accept the Supreme Court verdict on women entry." However, some members of the temple's board, its top decision-making body, say they are exploring a possible review petition.
During the hearings, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the over 800-year-old Lord Ayyappa temple, had told the court that the ban is not anti-women and is voluntarily accepted by them. But the top court underscored that all customs or practices such as a ban on entry of women had to conform to the constitution.
The board had urged the top court to steer clear of sitting in judgment on sensitive religious matters.
The Kerala government, which has been changing its stand on the temple ban, had told the Supreme Court in July that it favoured the entry of women.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court had scrapped the adultery law saying it went against gender justice and treated women like their husband's property.