This Case Summary is written by Yazhini B, a student at School of Excellence in Law
- The temple of Lord Ayyappa situated in Kerala restricts the entry of women within their menstruating age that are between the age of 10 to 50 years stating that the god is in the form of ” Naishtika Brahmachari’, celibate always.
- This restriction of the category of women was justified on the basis of traditional custom which was sanctioned by Rule 3(b), framed by the Government under the authority of the 1965 Kerala Hindu Places of Worship.
- In the case of “Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors v. State of Kerala & Ors” the constitutional validity of Rule was challenged for being violative of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 17 and 25(1) of the Constitution.
- The constitutional bench consisting J. Dipak Mishra, J. A. M. Khanwilkar, J. Chandrachud, J. R. F. Nariman and J. Indu Malhotra had delivered the judgment on 26th September 2018 with 4:1 majority lifted the ban of entry of women into Sabarimala temple.
- While the court favoured the gender equality, it created chaos among the believers of the custom.
- The Sabarimala temple in Kerala is devoted to the worship of Lord Ayyappa, as a ‘Naishtika Bramhachari’. Women of menstruating age is restricted from entering temple. The temple is under the control of the Travancore Devaswom Board .
- This restriction was challenged and, in the year of 1991, and the Kerala High Court upheld the tradition and decreed that the prohibition by the Travancore Devaswom Board that administers the hill shrine does not violate the Constitution.
- Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a public interest litigation petition under Article 32, in the year 2006 before the Supreme Court challenging the Sabrimala Temple’s custom of excluding women into the entry of the temple.
FACTS OF THE CASE
- In the case of “Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors v. State of Kerala & Ors” the validity of Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship, 1965 was challenged in the Supreme Court for the reason of violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 17 and 25(1) of the Constitution.
- The rule prohibited entry of women of age group 10-50 from entering the Sabarimala temple.
- The Petitioners contended that the Right to equality-Article 14and right to religion-Articles 25 and 26 being violated while the Respondents argued that their right to religion and right to manage religious affairs will be violated if women’s entry is allowed in the temple as their faith requires exclusion of such women from the temple on account of the celibate nature of the deity and the core beliefs of the Ayyappan faith.
- Based on these submissions, in order to determine whether Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship should be declared unconstitutional or not, three main issues were framed and addressed by the court.
- Whether or not the exclusionary practice that is relied upon a biological factor that is exclusive to the feminine gender amounts to “discrimination” and thereby violates Articles 14,15 and 17?
- Whether or not the practice of excluding such women constitutes an “essential religious practice” under Article 25 and whether a religious institution can assert a claim in that regard under the purview of right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion?
- Whether Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala holds a denominational character?
- Whether Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules permits ‘religious denomination’ to ban entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 years? If so, does it violate Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Indian Constitution by restricting entry on the grounds of sex?
The key arguments placed by the petitioners are,
- The religious custom which prohibited entry of women into Sabarimala temple violated the right against untouchability under Article 17 of the Indian Constitution
- The right of a religious denomination to manage its internal affairs under Article 26(b) has to be harmonized with 25(1) of the Indian Constitution ,the women’s right to practice religion.
- Devaswom Board is a part of the Hindu religion. Women has always been treated with dignity in Hindu religion, any custom which prohibits women entry is against the religion.
The key arguments placed by the respondents,
- The exclusionary practice is not a cruel one and only acts of cruelty should be declared unconstitutional and the discrimination is not against an entire class of women but only against a certain age group between 10 and 50 therefore it is not primarily gender based .
- There is no violation of Article 15, 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution as the exclusion is not on women as a class
- Lord Ayyappa is a living entity and has the right to privacy under Article 21
FINDINGS & REASONING
There are two rights that are combating here, the right to manage their own religious affairs and the right of equality for women to enter the temple. In the 4:1 bench , majority concluded that such women’s fundamental a right to equality and religion is violated by the impugned Rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) and is therefore, unconstitutional and liable to be struck down.
Violation of Article 14,15,17:
- Justice D Y Chandrachud held that “the exclusion of women between the ages of 10-50 years by the Sabarimala Temple was contrary to constitutional morality and that it subverted the construct of autonomy, liberty, and dignity”
- Justice Indu Malhotra in her judgement expressed a dissenting opinion that” In matters of religion and religious practises, Article 14 can be invoked solely by persons who are similarly situated, that is, persons belonging to the identical faith, creed, or section. But in this case the Petitioners do not state that they are devotees of Lord Ayyappa, who are aggrieved by the practises followed in the Sabarimala Temple” instead they promote them as activists.
DENOMINATIONAL CHARACTER OF THE TEMPLE
- Justice Rohinton Nariman held that “the Sabarimala Temple’s denominational freedom under Article 26 is subject to the State’s social reform mandate under Article 25(2)(b)”, which was upheld by CJI Dipak Misra.
- Justice Indu Malhotra in her judgement expressed a dissenting opinion that the Sabarimala Temple satisfies the neccesities for being considered a separate religious denomination. She therefore held that the temple in Sabarimala is protected under Article 26(b) to manage its internal affairs and is not subject to the social reform mandate .
- The Court delivered its verdict in relation to women entering Sabarimala temple on September 2018, A 4:1 majority held that the practice followed by the temple of excluding women is unconstitutional. The court held that the practice violated the Articles 14, 15, 19(1), 21 and 25(1). The Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act was held unconstitutional and was struck down.
- Justice Nariman and Justice Chandrachud, J. A. M. Khanwilkar concurred with the opinion of Chief Justice Misra. The dissenting opinion in the case was expressed by Justice Indu Malhotra.
- Justice Indu Malhotra stated that the Sabarimala Temple satisfies the requirements for being considered a separate religious denomination.
- She expressed that the Court must respect a religious denomination’s right to manage their internal affairs, regardless of whether their practices are rational or logical.
- Quoting the case “Subramaniam Swamy v. Union of India, Ministry of Law & Ors” she emphasized on the constitutional necessity of balancing various rights.
- She pointed out the importance of harmonizing the combating rights.
- She emphasized on the very fact that the religious practises being followed in this Temple are based on the belief that the Lord has expressed himself in the form of a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’.
- Quoting the case “Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors” she asserted
that the Constitutional nature of our country permits religious beliefs and practises to exist and it does not need to concentrate whether or not they appeal to the rational sensibilities of this Court.
- Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R F Nariman, Justice D Y Chandrachud constituted the majority and held the practice to be unconstitutional while Justice Indu Malhotra was the lone person who contradicted the opinion and dissented.
The prohibition of entry of menstruating women into the Sabarimala temple should been viewed from the context of Lord Ayyappa himself, who does not want to be visited by women of certain age.
Those who believe in the core ethos of the temple will not protest to enter into the temple against the wish of the god himself.
Lord Ayyappa sits in various spiritual forms in different temples and he is in the form of celibate god in the Sabarimala temple. Women are allowed to enter into other Ayyappa temples where he is not in the form of celibate god, it explains that there is not discrimination, rather a spiritual belief.
The courts should not interfere into the core belief system of the religion, then there will be numerous similar litigations and the court will have to deal with customs and practices of individual temples and deities and the secularism of the nation will be questioned.