Indian Supreme Court: unconstitutional to bar women of certain age group from entering Sabarimala temple

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

On Wednesday, the Indian Supreme Court declared that preventing women of age 10–50 from entering the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala was "arbitrary" and unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court began on Tuesday the hearing for the public interest litigation filed by petitioners including the Indian Young Lawyers Association. A panel of five judges — Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice RF Nariman, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Indu Malhotra, and the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra — heard the case of traditional prohibition of the entry to the temple based on a woman's age.

For centuries, women within the age range when females generally have monthly menstrual cycles were prevented from entering the Lord Ayyappan's temple. Ayyappan was considered celibate. Earlier this year, the Travancore Devaswom Board made it compulsory for women to produce an age proof in order to enter the temple. Ravi Prakash Gupta, one of the representatives of the petitioners, said, "Mere sight of a woman does not affect anyone's celibacy if one has take[n] the oath of it, otherwise, such oath has no meaning." Menstruation has been considered taboo in Indian society, and women were barred from entering the kitchen or a temple during the menstruation cycle.

A number of fundamental rights, mentioned in the Indian Constitution; including the right against discrimination on the basis of gender or sex, per Article 15; right to freedom of practice of any religion per Article 25; and abolishment of untouchability in Article 17; were considered in this case.

Citing Article 25 (1) of the Indian constitution, Justice DY Chandrachud said, "All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion." Chandrachud went on to say, "This means your right as a woman to pray is not dependent on a legislation. It is a constitutional right. Nobody has an exclusionary right of entry to a temple".

Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, "On what basis do you deny the entry. It is against the Constitutional mandate. Once you open it for public, anybody can go." Misra also said, "In a public place of worship, a woman can enter, where a man can go. What applies to a man, applies to a woman."

Saying the state government is "bound to obey" the Supreme Court's verdict, Kerala's Minister K Surendran said, "The state government's stand is that women should be allowed to offer prayers in Sabarimala Temple [...] Devaswom board now has the same opinion as that of government."