Sabarimala ban not anti-women as some temples also forbid men, Devaswom board tells Supreme Court

July 24, 2018

The board running Kerala’s Sabarimala temple on Tuesday defended the restrictions it imposes on the entry of women, claiming that some other temples deny entry to men. The Travancore Devaswom Board made the argument during a Supreme Court hearing on pleas challenging the restrictions on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 into the Sabarimala temple.

The judges, however, observed that not allowing women into the temple is against constitutional morality, Live Law reported. A Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra is hearing the matter.

The court asked the Travancore Devaswom Board to prove that the restrictions are not unconstitutional, Bar and Bench reported. “The moment they say they are being excluded, then the burden is on you to show is that the practice is not unconstitutional because it is clear that you are excluding them,” Nariman said.

Arguing for the Travancore Devaswom Board, lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi cited the example of Attukal temple in Kerala which does not allow men during Pongala. “[For] many of these temples the originating thought process is not gender at all,” he said. “It is not anti-women, it is a belief and faith.”

When Singhvi claimed that women voluntarily do not enter the Sabarimala temple, Chandrachud said this is “perhaps part of how patriarchal society subjugates women”, Bar and Bench reported. In response to Singhvi’s claim that “male chauvinism” is prevalent in societies and religions across the world, Chandrachud said the court would obliterate such practices whenever possible.

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said that customs and norms should be anchored in fundamental rights and duties.

Justice Nariman observed that the temple board was inconsistent in its stand as it allowed women to enter the temple for five days in a month. “The deity cannot suddenly disappear for five days only to reappear later,” he said.

The bench said the matter would be tested on “constitutional ethos”, PTI reported. The court asked the temple board to prove that the curbs were an “essential and integral” part of religious faith. “Morality means constitutional morality. If the practice is essential and integral part of the religious practice then it should must be read in conjunction with fundamental rights of women,” the bench said.

In hearings last week, the bench had observed that women have the constitutional right to enter the temple and pray without facing any discrimination. What applies to a man applies to a woman too, Misra had said. The Kerala government told the court that it favoured women’s entry into the temple.

Kerala government supports women’s entry to temple

The Sabarimala temple does not allow women between the ages of 10 and 50 to enter its inner sanctum, a practice defended by the Travancore Devaswom Board. In April 2017, the board said women who want to offer prayers in the temple’s inner sanctum must carry proof of age.

In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a writ petition saying the restriction was unconstitutional. After some occasional hearings by various judges, the plea was referred to a three-judge bench in 2008, and finally taken up for hearing in January 2016. In October 2017, a three-judge bench headed by Misra referred the matter to the Constitution bench.

The Constitution bench is considering whether the practice is discriminatory and, therefore, in violation of the right to equality before law, protection from religious discrimination and the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, or whether it qualifies as an “essential religious practice” under Article 25, which allows grants every citizen the freedom to follow one’s religion in a manner one chooses.

Source : Scroll

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