New Delhi: The Supreme Court will from Monday take up a clutch of petitions related to the entry of women in places of worship, like temples (including Kerala’s Sabarimala shrine) mosques, Parsi temples etc. The petitions will be heard by a nine-judge Constitution bench headed by and comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde.
Last November, a five-judge bench of the apex court, headed by then-CJI Ranjan Gogoi, and also including Justice Bobde, among others, had, in a majority 3-2 verdict, sent all review pleas against its September 2018 verdict, allowing entry in Sabarimala to women in the 10-50 age group, to a larger seven-judge bench.
However, upon becoming CJI, Justice Bobde set up a larger nine-judge Constitution bench to hear the case along with a host of related cases. The bench comprises, besides CJI himself, Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, MM Shantanagoudar, S Abdul Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, BR Gavai and Surya Kant.
None of the judges from the November 2019 bench-Justices Indu Malhotra, AM Khanwilkar, RF Nariman and DY Chandrachud-who, interestingly, were also on the bench which passed the original judgment in 2018, are on the reconstituted nine-judge Constitution bench. While Justices Nariman and Chandrachud were the dissenting judges in the November 2019 order, Justice Malhotra was the lone dissenter in the September 2018 one.
The Sabarimala controversy dates back to several years as women devotees of menstruating age, i.e in the 10-50 age group, were barred from entering the temple out of respect for the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa, the deity in whose honour the temple stands. In 1991, the Kerala High Court legalised the ban on entry of women in the shrine.
It was this ban that was overturned by the-then CJI Dipak Misra-led bench, thus allowing women from all age groups to enter the temple.