- The court will hear 49 petitions challenging the ruling on January 22
- The Sabarimala temple remains open only for 127 days in a year
- The protests have triggered a political row with the BJP and the Congress
The Supreme Court today agreed to review in open court its own order ending the Kerala Sabarimala temple's ban on women of menstrual age. Refusing to keep its decision on hold, the court said it would hear 49 petitions challenging the ruling on January 22.
On September 28, a five-judge constitution bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra had ruled that women of all ages must be allowed into the renowned temple, ending a centuries-old ban on women and girls between 10 and 50 years.
"Restrictions can't be treated as essential religious practice," the top court had said in a majority four-one judgement, calling the custom "almost like untouchability".
Since that order, however, no woman below 50 has made it to the 800-year-old shrine because of massive protests by devotees who call the Supreme Court decision an insult to Sabarimala's deity Lord Ayyappa, believed to be celibate.
The court had on October 9 declined an urgent hearing on the challenge by an association which called the Sabarimala order "absolutely untenable, irrational and perverse". The National Ayyappa Devotees Association (NADA) argued that "the notion that the judgment is revolutionary, one which removes the stigma or the concept of dirt or pollution associated with menstruation is unfounded. "
Last month, when Sabarimala opened for the first time after the landmark ruling, more than a dozen women tried to access the shrine but failed, even with heavy police escort, to come anywhere near it.
The temple, located on the top of a hill, remains open only 127 days in a year and can be accessed through a forest.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the temple, had told the court that it should stay away from sitting in judgment on sensitive religious matters.
The Sabarimala protests have been seized by political parties in the run-up to the 2019 national election. The BJP and the Congress are both trying to outdo each other in siding with devotees and targeting the Left government, which had pledged to follow the court order.