New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday reiterated that denial of entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 in Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala based on custom, faith or tradition cannot defeat the constitutional principles of equality
A three-judge bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, V. Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph was hearing a batch of petitions and applications filed by Indian young Lawyers Association and others challenging the ban on entry of women.
Senior counsel Indira Jaising, appearing for women who are in the `menstruation cycle’ argued that such a ban violated their right to practice religion which includes right of entry and worshiping the Lord. Questioning the contention that women are not allowed as Lord Ayyappa is a “Naisthik brahmachari” celibate and presence of women will affect the Lord’s penance, she said how women can be made victims if celibacy is to be disturbed.
Justice Misra told the counsel “they (temple) have developed a custom and tradition being followed to maintain purity of the temple. But the question is whether physiological phenomenon can be a guiding factor to deny entry a class of women within the class of females. Can the fact that the Lord is a Naisthik Brahmachari be a ground to prohibit entry of women and will it stand constitutional test.
Justice Kurian Joseph pointed out to the counsel that the temple is an institution and what they say is the status of the deity as Brahmachari has to be protected. Are they not entitled to institutional protection. Justice Misra, however, said there can be no discrimination as temple is a public place.
Ms. Indira Jaising argued that when all classes of society are allowed, why can’t they allow women in the age group of 10 to 50 and how can the court allow this discrimination.
Earlier senior counsel K. Ramamurthi and K.K. Venugopal, urged the court to refer the matter for adjudication by a five-judge Constitution Bench as important questions of law are to be decided. Justice Kurian Joseph also felt that since interpretation of law was involved, it can go to a five-judge bench. However, Justice Misra said we will hear all sides and if we feel that it requires to be heard by five judges then we will pass appropriate orders.
The main petitioner Indian young lawyers Associaition recalled a recent order passed by Bombay High Court permitting entry of women into the Shani temple and said judicial intervention is required in this matter also. It said discrimination in matters of entry to temples is neither a ritual nor a ceremony associated with Hindu religion. The Hindu religion does not discriminate against women. Arguments in the case will continue on April 18.