SC refers Sabarimala case to 7-judge bench, no stay on entry of women
A five-judge bench, led by former CJI Dipak Misra, eventually struck down the rules as discriminatory of women’s right to equality and worship on Sept 28, 2018. In doing so, the court had shrugged of the temple management’s claim that the practice has been in existence for centuries and should be left alone.
|, ET Bureau
Last Updated: Nov 14, 2019, 06.41 PM IST
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked seven judges to examine whether women could be kept out of places of worship in the name of religious practices, but did not stay its earlier verdict allowing women between the ages of 10 and 50 to visit Sabarimala temple.
The ruling had drawn the ire of conservative Hindu sections and thrown the temple management and the Kerala government into a tizzy.
The decision comes days ahead of the next pilgrimage season beginning November 16. The temple rules disallowed women in their reproductive phases -- when they were at the menstruating phase from entering the temple on the ground that the presiding deity was a complete brahmachari.
This was challenged by activists and organisations in the top court on the ground that it was violative of the concept of gender justice and equality enshrined in the Constitution.
The case saw many twists and turns with the state government initially opposing and later coming around, under the Left government, to the view that women cannot be denied entry under the Constitution into a public place like a temple.
A five-judge bench, led by former CJI Dipak Misra, eventually struck down the rules as discriminatory of women’s right to equality and worship on Sept 28, 2018.
In doing so, the court had shrugged of the temple management’s claim that the practice has been in existence for centuries and should be left alone.
The management had argued that the followers of Lord Ayappa (Lord Vishnu) in his bachelor form a different sect of Hindus and have the right to practice and profess their religion as per their practices.
Appearing for the temple Board, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singvi had argued that these were matters of “faith”, “belief” and cannot be termed as regressive, anti-women. He had urged the court not to interfere with the practice.
After the ruling was delivered, the state government had thrown up its hands on implementing the ruling citing problems created by Lord Ayappa’s devotees. The temple management had also placed its views on the practical difficulties in carrying out the court order. At least 19 review pleas were filed against the top court order. Reviews usually lie to the same bench and are hence rejected.
In this case, however, former CJI Dipak Misra has demitted office. The other judges on the bench are Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
Justice Indu Malhotra had dissented against the majority verdict on the ground that courts should not sit on judgement over harmless religious beliefs unless they were pernicious practices such as sati.
The court has since in its Ayodhya ruling held that courts must not sit on judgement over matters of faith and belief. That ties up nicely with Justice Malhotra’s views, prompting speculation that the court would indeed review its earlier ruling.
The quartet led by incumbent CJI Ranjan Gogoi took a call on refering the review to a larger bench. CJI gogoi said that the issue raised interesting questions of law regarding interplay of right too worship and gender equality and whether essential practices ought to be left to a section or decided by court.
The issue will now be placed before a larger bench. Justices RF Nariman and DY Chandrachud dissented.
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