As the gates open, the state and the people wait to see what unfolds.
As the gates open, the state and the people wait to see what unfolds.(Photo Courtesy: India)
  • 1. How it Began – From 1991 to 2019
  • 2. The Five Issues Addressed by the Bench
  • 3. Key Quotes from the Judgment
  • 4. On the Basis of Menstruation?
  • 5. The Sabarimala Temple
  • 6. Ayyappa’s Vow of Celibacy
  • 7. Is Sabarimala Temple State Funded?
  • 8. What Now?
  • 9. Comments on the Issue
  • 10.
SC Refers Sabarimala Case to 7-Judge Bench: All You Need to Know

On Thursday, 14 November, the Supreme Court referred to a seven-member bench 65 review petitions seeking re-examination of its September 2018 verdict which allowed entry of women of all age groups to Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple. For now, women will continue to be allowed entry to the sanctum.

The SC’s landmark judgment came on 28 September 2018, declaring the ban on women of ages 10-40 entering the temple ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘discriminatory’.

Following this, on 2 January, two women created history by entering the sanctorum of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala.

The entry of Bindu (42) from Koilandy and Kanakadurga (44) from Angadipuram in Malappuram district of Kerala sparked state-wide protests.

Meanwhile, hours after the two women entered the shrine, the temple was closed for “purification rituals.”

The protests had Lord Ayyappa devotees who cited ‘tradition’ to oppose the Supreme Court judgment. On the other side, the fight was spearheaded by women’s rights activists, who were determined to visit the shrine and uphold the SC’s judgment allowing women of all ages to enter.

Here’s all you need to know about the case:

  • 1. How it Began – From 1991 to 2019

    In 1991, Mahendran, a devotee, wrote a petition stating that the temple board, in collusion with the government, was violating temple practises by allowing women into the sanctum and according special treatment to VVIPs. This case was even represented by women lawyers. This was converted to a Public Interest Litigation, since the judgment affected a large number of people.

    In a substantial judgment, the Division Bench of the Kerala High Court said women between the ages of 10-50 shall not be allowed to enter, as per the existing traditions. The age limit was specified by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), in charge of the administration of the temple. The court also wondered if the Ayyappa devotees formed a separate religious denomination.

    In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers’ Association escalated the issue directly to the Supreme Court. This was not an appeal of the 1991 judgment, but it did call that judgment to question. Specifically, it challenged Rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965, and said all Hindus have the right to enter the temple and denying them the right was a form of “untouchability”.

    The 2006 writ petition also made a general prayer asking for gender equality in all places of worship. This was eventually interpreted to pertain to only Hindu temples.

    In 2016, the case came before a three-judge bench, which included Justice Dipak Misra (who was not a chief justice at the time), as well as Justice Bhanumathi and Justice Ashok Bhushan.

    On 20 February 2017, the bench reserved judgment.

    On 13 October 2017, the bench discussed five issues that could merit escalation to the Constitution bench. This meant deciding whether the issues were inherently unconstitutional or were misinterpreted, making them illegal.

    Finally, on 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court removed the ban on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

    On 14 November, 2019, the Supreme Court referred judgement on 65 petitions that challenged the removal of the ban, to a 7 judge bench.


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