This Case Summary is written by Lavanya Ajaykumar Panicker, a student at DY Patil Deemed To Be University School of Law, Nerul, Navi Mumbai
“A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”
- Melinda Gates
The Indian Young Lawyers Association brought the case to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in 2006 as a public interest lawsuit (PIL). The case focuses on a crucial issue: women’s entry into the Sabarimala Temple. There were several concerns presented, with petitioners arguing that laws restricting women’s access to temples are illegal because they violate Article 14, Article 15, Article 17, Article 25, and Article 26 of the Indian Constitution. The divine Sabarimala Temple is positioned in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta District, in the western ghat mountain ranges. Lord Ayyappa is well-known in this temple. It states that it is a place of worship and prohibits women of menstruating age who are between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering. The constitutional bench, which included former Chief Justice J. Dipak Mishra, J. A. M. Khanwilkar, J. Chandrachud, J. R. F. Nariman, and J. Indu Malhotra, delivered the verdict on September 26, 2018, with a 4:1 plurality, with the solitary dissenting opinion coming from J. Indu Malhotra, the bench’s only lady judge.
For Hindus, the holy Sabrimala Temple is one of the most well-known pilgrimages and worship sites. Women were prohibited from entering the temple because it was thought that Lord Ayyappa was a Naishtika Brahmachari” and because women of menstruating age are not innocent in that section and would encroach on the idol’s celibacy. S Mahendra filed a petition in 1990, charging that young people were flocking to Sabarimala Temple. Justice K. Paripoornan and K. Srinivasan delivered the same judgement in 1991. The Kerala High Court’s Balanarayana Marar ruled that women between the ages of 10 and 50 are prohibited from offering worship at Sabarimala Temple, adding that the prohibition is not new, but has been in place for a long time. The Sabarimala Temple would be one of Hinduism’s most well-known pilgrimage sites. Women of menstruating age were barred from entering the Sabarimala shrine, which is one of Kerala’s most prominent temples. Several women attempted to join the temple but were denied due to threats of sexual attack.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Women have long fought for equal status and inclusion in public places in our society. However, the situation is improving, and numerous changes have been enacted as a result of court decisions. The Supreme Court has secured Muslim women’s rights from triple talaq, as it did in the Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum And Ors. The Supreme Court has allowed women to enter Haji Ali Dargah in the case of Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz And 1 Anr vs State Of Maharashtra And Ors. For a long time, the question of prohibitions on women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering Sabarimala temple has been a source of national discussion. With the Supreme Court’s decision, this topic has regained national prominence. Some scholars say Ayyappa is the Buddhist Purana’s Nilakantha Avalokiteswara. M brought up this point. In her chapter on ‘Introduction to Kerala Studies,’ Sreekala Nair. The appearance of Vavar (a Muslim deity) in the temple grounds is another special feature. The Sabarimala pilgrims visit Arthunkal church, where they retrieve their’ malas,’ indicating some Christian presence. The Sabarimala space witnesses a transformation into the Brahmanic fold of Hinduism, particularly in the twentieth century, from this heterogeneous identity. Sabarimala is said to depict “Naishtika Brahamcharya,” a perpetual brahamcharya and a celibate student who gains great powers from his ascetic endeavours, especially abstention from sexual activities, which he practised before and after becoming a brahamcharya. going to Sabarimala for a pilgrimage as a result, according to a notice sent by the temple’s management board, women of menstruating age are not allowed to join the temple.
Below stated are the issues stated in Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. V. The State of Kerala & Ors are mentioned in brief:
- Whether the exclusionary practice against the female gender amounts to “discrimination”? Whether the same leads to violation of Articles 14, 15, and 17?
- Reinterpretation of “essential religious practice” under Article 25. Whether a religious institution assert a claim on the right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion?
- Whether Ayyappa Temple has a denominational character? Whether it is hit by Article 290-A of the Constitution of India or not?
- Whether Rule 3 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?
- Whether Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965 is ultra vires the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 and, if treated to be intra vires, whether it will be violative of the provisions of Part III of the Constitution?
The Sabarimala decision exemplifies the issue of how often customs should circumvent rules. In the case of S., the Kerala High Court made the decision in 1991. Similar arguments were made in Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore Devaswom Board, Thiruvananthpuram, and Ors. In 2017, a three-judge panel was formed to investigate the Sabarimala case. This bench looked into the reasons given by the Kerela government to explain the ban. They have looked at why the Kerala High Court approved the government’s opposing position in 1991. The Kerala High Court explained its decision by stating that it was clearly respecting religious and historical values
FINDINGS AND REASONING
After the High Court barred women aged 10 to 50 from entering the country in 1991, a later petition submitted in 2006 sparked heated debate. Menstruation is not impure, and women should have free access to temples, it was argued in their favour. It is gender inequality to consider women impure when they menstruate. Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, stated that his party has always advocated gender equality and that women are provided with facilities and security. This activity also violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution (Equality before Law), as discrimination based on a certain age demographic of women is not permissible.
The case was decided on a 4:1 basis, which found that the exclusion of women from the Sabarimala shrine is illegal, as is section 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act 1965.
This limitation is in violation of the Indian Constitution’s Articles 15, 25, and 26:
- Article 15 prohibits discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, caste, sex, or place of birth. This activity is in violation of Article 15 because segregation based on “sex” was used to gain access to the temple.
- “Freedom of faith and free profession, promotion, and traditions of religion” are the topics of Article 25. This activity is a violation of Article 25 since it denies women the right to practise their faith freely.
- The “freedom to control religious affairs” is addressed in Article 26. This activity is obviously in violation of Article 26 in this case.
The devotees’ prediction is false, since the Ayyappans cannot be classified as a religious denomination because they do not meet the criteria. Article 26’s universal right is given to religious denominations or parts of them, not to people. This religion can be defined by people who have a similar religion, have a common organisation, and are identified as a section by a distinct name. It is important to differentiate between religious believers and denominational worshippers.
- The clauses of the Kerala Hindu Place of Public Worship Act, 1965, restricting women’s access to temples, are unconstitutional because they violate Indian Constitution Articles 14, 15, 25, and 26.
The applicant/intervenor in Deepak Sibal & Ors vs Punjab University And Another and others 12 argued that the exclusionary procedure contradicts the enshrined in the constitution principle of dignity of women and equality before the law, and that the burden of demonstrating that it does not violate is on respondent no. 2, the Devaswom Board, which the aforementioned respondent has failed to discharge.
The applicant/intervenor further claims that the exclusionary activity in and of itself violates Article 15(1) of the Constitution, since it amounts to sex discrimination because menstruation is a bodily function that is exclusive to women. The applicant/intervenor has relied on this Court’s decisions in Anuj Garg & Ors vs Hotel Association Of India & Ors to support his/her position. To emphasise that gender inequality in some manner is contrary to constitutional norms, see India and others14 and Charu Khurana and others v. Union of India and others.
On September 28, 2018, the Court handed down its decision in this case, ruling by a 4:1 consensus that the women’s ban in Sabarimala Temple is discriminatory. It ruled that the practise infringed on Articles 14, 15, 19(1), 21, and 25 of the Constitution, which guarantee dignity, liberty, and religious freedom (1). The Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act’s Rule 3(b) was declared unconstitutional. If the exclusion was based on “law,” Rule 3(b) permitted Hindu denominations to keep women out of public houses of worship.
The Supreme Court’s five-judge panel that heard the case and handed down its decision argued differently and held differing viewpoints. A dissenting opinion was written by Justice Indu Malhotra on the subject. The petitioners and respondents each made some cases before the Supreme Court. The petitioners argued that the temple authorities’ restriction of women’s access to the temple is plainly unconstitutional and in violation of their constitutional rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Exclusion based on biological, morphological properties such as menstruation is arbitrary and unfair, according to Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and Justice Khanwilkar. Both men and women have the freedom to worship, and the temple administrators’ custom was patriarchal and in violation of the Indian Constitution. Any religious belief or tradition that offended women’s integrity by refusing them admission simply because they menstruate was unconstitutional, according to Justice Chandrachud. “The taboo of menstruation has been built up around cultural values in the impurity of menstruating women,” the judge said. They have no room in the legal system. A woman’s menstrual status cannot be seen as a legal statutory justification for depriving her of her dignity and autonomy as a person.
“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better” — J. K. Rowling
Women have been discriminated against not only because of biological causes, but also because of the Hindu religion’s orthodox ill practises. All people of India have non-discriminatory rights under the Indian constitution, regardless of their rank, age, sex, caste, religion, gender, or other factors. On the basis of the fair assignment interpretation theory, only affirmative discrimination is permitted. In this situation, judicial activism has played a significant part. The Indian judiciary has once again shown its open judicial mind, demonstrating that the mechanical and blind enforcement of archaic legislation leads to unjust acts and prohibitions. The legislature must now ensure that religious traditions and civil rights do not conflict in an unfair way. Any such debate must be resolved by theological amendments. The presence of other bramacharya deities and their temples all over India is another counter-argument to this issue. Lord Hanuman, for example, was a Brahamchari, but women are allowed to enter Hanuman’s temples. Hence, In the road to understanding divinity, it is often observed that women are viewed unequally.