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Sabrimala Temple Entry Case

Context

Recently, Constitutional bench of Supreme Court allowed women entry into subrimala temple.

Background of case

  • The Sabarimala temple restricts women between age of 10 and 50 years from taking the pilgrimage to Sabarimala. The restriction finds its source in the legend that the Sabarimala temple deity, Swami Ayyappa, is a ‘NaishtikaBrahmachari’.
  • Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965, bars women from entering the temple premises.
  • In 1991, Kerala High Court ruledin favor of the restriction imposed on women devotees. It had found that the restriction was in place since time immemorial and not discriminatory to the Constitution
  • In 2006, Indian Young Lawyers Association, challenged the ban in Supreme Court
  • But the Kerala government told the Supreme Court that beliefs and customs of devotees cannot be changed through a judicial process and that “the opinion of the priests is final”
  • The Supreme Court has referred the matter to a larger Constitutional Bench

Issues involved with case

  1. Gender Discrimination

When everyone is equal in the eyes of God and the Constitution, why are only women banned from entering certain temples.

  1. Religion is a personal choice

Our Constitution guarantees an individual the freedom to choose his/her religion. Therefore, praying in a temple/mosque/church or at home must be the choice of the individual.

  1. Custom Vs Liberty

The Constitution has provisions to protect the customs and religious practices of the people. At the same time, it guarantees liberty and religious freedom to the individual.

4.Temple as public place Vs religion as private choice

Temple, managed by trusts, are public places. The representatives of the Sabarimala trust say that it has its own customs and traditions which have to be respected. Just like there are rules for other public places.

Supreme Court judgment

  • The temple’s rules are inconsistent with the Art 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution which allows equal access to women in all public places such as temples.
  • On the question of ‘morality’ as used in articles 25 and 26 of constitution, the court observes that morality means constitutional morality.
  • Court also observed that any essential religious practice must be read in conjunction with the fundamental rights of women
  • On the question of religious denomination, SC observed that temple board has to prove them as religious denomination
  • The court also refused concept of a private temple. Court observed that if there is temple then it is a public place and everyone will be allowed to enter it.

Religious Denomination

  • A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.
  • The right of individuals and groups to practice their own religious belief has been recognized by Indian constitution under Articles 25 and 26 subject to certain limitations
  • One of the key features of religious denomination is a sense of exclusive belongingness

Earlier SC judgment

  1. In Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras, vs Shri LakshmindraThirthaSwamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt (1954), the Seven judge bench of the Supreme Court observed that
  • What was protected under Articles 25 and 26 was the essential part of the religion, which was to be ascertained by its basic tenets. Therefore, discrimination in matters of entry into temples was neither a ritual nor a ceremony associated with the Hindu religion.
  1. The Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench in Sri VenkatramanaDevaruvs State of Mysore (1958) observed that
  • In case of conflict between the right of a religious denomination and that of an individual, it was the individual’s right that was to be given preference.

Significance of judgment

  • This judgment is considered as a radical judgment which would help to rationalize religious practices which are prevailing in Indian society
  • This judgment protectswomen’s rights in public places
  • This judgment also ensures the individual liberty
  • However, critics also says that religious institutions are not included in the long list of public places mentioned in Article 15 (2) and this is overreach of judiciary on religious matters

Way Forward

  • A lot has changed since the rules prohibiting the entry of women into temple were made.
  • The notion of “purity and pollution” must be disregarded in this age of Information Technology.
  • Women must be given equal access and opportunities as men in all spheres.
  • The notion of biological inequality, in this advanced age of science and technology, must not be extended into all other spheres.
  • The Constitution must be seen a transcendental tool for social revolution rather than sharp divide between state and the individual
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