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Women No Longer Barred From Sabarimala, Declares Supreme Court Today

Posted: September 28, 2018

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The Supreme Court in today’s verdict on the Sabarimala temple case has declared that women of all age groups must be allowed to the temple without any restrictions.

Traditionally, the famous Sabarimala temple located in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, on a hilltop in the Western Ghats doesn’t allow women aged between 10 and 50 into the temple – with the reason assigned being that the deity there, Lord Ayyappa, is celibate.

The case over banning women’s entry into the temple has been going on for a while in the lower courts and until now, the verdict has not been in favour of granting entry to women. So, a petition was filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association in the Supreme Court against the ban in 2016, as it is outright discrimination against women and in principle, a threat to their fundamental right to worship.

For a long time now, many women have argued that menstruating women are not impure in any way, and banning women from worshipping at a temple of their choice is discrimination. As a young woman Keertana explains in her article on Women’s Web, “I have deep respect for my culture and traditions. I have been to the Sabarimala temple four times, and I grew up listening to the stories of Ayyappa – of his heroism, his humility and his unconditional acceptance of people despite their differences. I remember waiting for months before making the incredible pilgrimage to Sabarimala and enjoying the feel of the fresh earth with my bare feet as we made our way up to the temple. These eagerly-awaited trips were suddenly snatched away from me, when I turned 11. Why? Why could the boys of my age who began these pilgrimages with me, continue visiting Ayyappa in his hilly home, while I had to stay behind? Just because I was a girl?”

A bench of 5 judges that includes Justice RF Nariman, DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra, AM Khanwilkar, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra had held a hearing for 8 days in the month of August, where arguments from both parties were heard. 

The Travancore Devaswom Board which runs the Sabarimala temple had argued that it’s a sensitive religions matter. They claimed that with women of menstrual age entering the temple, they are worried about the ‘purity’ of the 41 days long penance procedures that need to be followed before visiting the shrine. 

However, treating women as lesser citizens in any way is against the constitution. So today, the Supreme Court has given the judgement that religion is a way of life and both men and women have the right to practice religion which is essential for their dignity and identity. Reading out the verdict Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, “Rules based on biological characteristics will not muster constitution.”  

Banning them from entering a temple is against the right to worship of Hindu women. The Supreme Court has decided that it could not allow patriarchy to rule religion and scrapped the long-held ban. Coming so soon after yesterday’s adultery verdict, this is one more news for us women to celebrate!

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