The bench appointed senior lawyers Raju Ramachandran and K Ramamurthy as amicus curiae to help the court in the case, and granted time until April 11 for Kerala to provide information to back its position.
The Lord Ayyappa temple atop Sabarimala hills doesn’t allow women aged between 10 and 50 to enter the temple precincts on the ground that the deity was a brahmachari. The ban was challenged in the Kerala High Court, which upheld the norm in 1990.
The Young Lawyers Association appealed the high court decision in the top court. The then Left Front government favoured lifting of the ban, but the current Congress-led government filed a fresh affidavit supporting the practice.
On Friday, while hearing the matter, the SC bench asked whether the state government could suddenly change its stand.
Senior advocates V Giri and KK Venugopal, appearing for the state and the temple, respectively, defended the state’s changed stance and argued that the issue had generated much anxiety in Kerala.
The top court ought not to interfere with the centuries-old tradition, they said. “It is a very, very serious matter. We need six weeks’ time to put in our affidavit,” Venugopal said.
While granting time, the bench the Hindu religion, particularly Sanatana Dharma and scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita, prima facie does not discriminate between man and woman.
The practice should stand the rigours of Article 14 (right to equality) subject to harmonious interpretation with Articles 25 and 26 which guarantee freedom of religion to every individual, the bench said.
“We will test it on the constitutional parameters,” Justice Misra said, seeking an explanation for the practice. “We are not going to narrow down constitutional parameters.”
“Is this (practice) so intrinsically fundamental for religion as envisaged by the Constitution? Are women incapable of attaining the spirituality in the spiritual sense,” Justice Misra asked.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, supporting the cause of women, argued that they could not be treated as “out of the human race”, adding that men were not subjected to such discrimination in sects such as Brahma Kumaris.