SC judgment on Sabarimala temple is a laudable step towards upholding equal rights of women in India

By Amnesty International India
Bengaluru/ New Delhi: 28 September 2018 3:18 pm

The Supreme Court allowing entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala Temple is a laudable step towards upholding equal rights of women in India, said Amnesty India today.

“The judgment is a welcome recognition of women’s right to equal treatment. It questions age-old beliefs that exclude women based on notions of inferiority, patriarchy and ideologies of chastity and purity. Traditional, cultural and religious norms have long been used to justify violations against women. Practices that perpetuate the subjugation of women, and harmful gender stereotypes, must be ended,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty India.

A five-Judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra today passed a 4:1 majority judgment in favour of lifting the ban on entry of women between 10-50 years, essentially opening the doors of the Sabarimala Temple for all persons. The court found the restrictions on entry to be unconstitutional and observed that all devotees are equal and there cannot be any discrimination on basis of gender. The court ruled that ‘biological or physiological reasons cannot be accepted in freedom for faith’.

“The Supreme Court has affirmed that right to practice religion is subject to constitutional morality, of which women’s right to equality is an integral part. This is a massive step towards ensuring that women have the same right as men to practice their religion as they deem fit.  The relegation of women in religious practices on the basis of physiological factors is a complete violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution,” said Asmita Basu.

BACKGROUND

The Ayappa Temple in Sabarimala, Kerala, prohibits women of ‘menstruating age’ between 10-50 years from entering the temple. The prohibition was enforced under Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 which stated that “women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship”.

In 1991, the Kerala High Court heard the petition by S. Mahendran who highlighted the entry of women in temple despite the ban. The High Court favoured the ban contending that such a practice had existed “since time immemorial” and was not in violation of the law. The court also directed the Kerala government to take all measures necessary, including the use of police, to ensure the ban was upheld.

In 2006, the Young Lawyers’ Association petitioned the Supreme Court seeking reversal of the ban. The Kerala government on its part has taken differing stances. The Left Democratic Front government chose not to oppose the petition of 2006. The United Democratic Fund government re-considered its earlier stance and supported the ban, when it came up for hearing in January 2016. The Pinarayi Vijayan government, which came to power in the state, said it will stand by the stance of the UDF government and support the ban on women. In July this year, the state government expressed support for entry of women, irrespective of age, in the Temple.

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Smriti Singh
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