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”.
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.