Arguing in support of a ban on women in the Kerala's Sabarimala temple, an influential body representing the Nair community in Kerala said that the temple's deity Lord Ayappa "himself doesn't want the presence of women between 10 and 50".
Allowing them would "change the character of the deity and the temple", said senior lawyer K Parasaran, appearing for the Nair Service Society.
The petitioners had argued for the worshippers, but the deity also has a right that has to be protected. The point of view of the deity, who has its own legal personality as per law, should be addressed, the 90-year-old lawyer, who was India's top law officer back in the eighties, told a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
The constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra is hearing a bunch of petitions that challenge the traditional ban on the entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age in the famous Sabarimala temple.
Women of an age to menstruate are restricted from entering the temple as its presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered to be a celibate.
"Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala is unique as he is a celibate and doesn't want the presence of women aged between 10 and 50 as it would affect His penance. When the Lord Himself doesn't want them, who are we to say they should be allowed," quipped Mr Parasaran,
"I have two duties - one to the Lords here in the court, and other to the Lord above all of us," he argued.
The lawyer argued that while the Hindu religion is very tolerant and by and large doesn't discriminate, "But there are aberrations," he said.
The issue should not be approached with notions of patriarchy, he contended, arguing that the court should, apart from listening to the voice of activists, should also hear out those seeking to protect tradition.
The judges have indicated during the hearing that they would test the order banning entry of women against the constitutional right to equality before law and it appears unlikely that it would pass this test.
Justice Rohinton Nariman reiterated the point. "The notification barring women of aged between 10 and 50 will violate the fundamental rights of women. Any law or notification that violates fundamental rights is unconstitutional," the judge said.
"The notification is not only for the worshippers but also for the temple board to preserve the religious practices followed," Mr Parasaran concluded his arguments on an emotional note, pointing to the 68 years of practice as a lawyer.
The Supreme Court is likely to reserve the verdict after completing the hearing tomorrow.
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