New Delhi: Amidst 18 hills in the Western Ghats range, the Sabarimala temple — the abode of Lord Ayyappa, is located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala. The temple which is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is managed by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB). While hundreds of devotees follow strict rules prior to undertaking their pilgrimage, the temple makes the headline for shutting its door on women pilgrims. Menstruating women between the age group of 10 and 50 are restricted from entering the premises of the Sabarimala temple due to “impurity”.

Why Ban on Entry of Women:

Owing to the celibate nature of the main deity, women before their puberty and those before their menopause are barred from entering the temple. Calling Lord Ayyapa as a “juristic person”, ‘People for Dharma’ and NGO Chetna claimed that Lord Ayyappa has the rights to preserve his “brahmacharya” (celibate) character under the Constitution. To put an end to the discrimination, a group of five women lawyers challenged the rule by filing a petition against the centuries-old ban on entry of women into the temple. The restriction faced by women “of menstruating age” is authorised by Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965

What The Court Has to Say:

The restriction on the entry of the women between the age group of 10 to 50 years was first imposed by the Kerala High Court in 1991. Currently, the Supreme Court of India has taken the issue to examine the legality of the prohibition. The constitutional bench has observed that the restrictions imposed on women are “steeped in patriarchy and chauvinism”. The ruling on the Sabarimala temple is set to impact all other temples and their customs across the state.

The five-judge Constitution Bench led by  Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra is likely to announce the verdict on the entry of women into Sabarimala temple in Kerala on Friday. The delivery of the judgement on the Sabarimala case was initially reserved for August 1, after an eight-day hearing in July.

Justice D Y Chandrachud, in one of the hearings in the Supreme Court, stated, “Your (intervener) right to pray being a woman, is equal to that of a man and it is not dependent on a law to enable you to do that.” Justice Nariman had earlier observed that “menstruation is not impure.” The constitutional bench had also stated that a “woman’s right to pray was not dependent on any law but it is a Constitutional right”.

What Temple Management Has to Say:

When Kerala HC upheld the restriction by stating that the “tantri (priest)” of the temple has the ultimate stand on traditions, the women lawyers moved the case in the apex court. The temple management also argued that the restrictions were not discriminatory in nature, considering the tradition that upholds the belief that the deity is a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (eternal celibate).

In support of the petitioners, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising argued that the restrictions were discriminatory to women as it prevented their right to pray. Moreover, the age-old restrictions were contradicting the Articles 14, 15 and 17 of the Constitution. Questioning the temple authorities, CJI Misra had earlier said in a SC hearing, “On what basis you (temple authorities) deny the entry. It is against the Constitutional mandate. Once you open it for public, anybody can go.”

What is Kerala Government’s Stance: 

After a series of changes in its stances, the Kerala government told the top court in July that it opposed the ban on the entry of women and promised support to women and their right to pray at the temple.