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: India.com)
  • 1. How it Began; From 1991 to 2018
  • 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.
All You Need to Know About the Sabarimala Issue

Unprecedented high-voltage drama was inevitable as protests grip Sabarimala shrine in Kerala.

The protests have Lord Ayyappa devotees on one side, who cite tradition to oppose a Supreme Court judgment overturning a ban on the entry of women into the temple. On the other side, the fight has been spearheaded by women rights activists, who are determined to visit the shrine and uphold the SC’s judgment allowing women of all ages to enter.

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

The 4:1 judgment was delivered by a five-judge bench consisting then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, with Malhotra dissenting.

From the Pandalam royal family (to whom the temple belonged), the Devaswom board to the common people, thousands gathered in protests with cries of #ReadyToWait and chants of ‘Saranam Ayyappa’.

By 4 October, the BJP, the RSS and the local Congress party joined the protests and eventually took over. Protests across Madurai, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu are relatively free of local political support/intervention as of now.

Gender activist Trupti Desai, the Bhumata Brigade chief who has been fighting to get women the right to enter into all places of worship for long now, has supported the SC verdict. Desai has so far successfully advocated and walked into the Shani temple in Shingnapur, the Haji Ali Dargah and the Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik, among others.

With Trupti Desai pressuring the Kerala government to take a stand, the Shiv Sena threatening mass suicide if the SC order is carried out, and the BJP and the Congress in two minds between the Centre and state, the opening of the Sabarimala gates will ring in much more than just pilgrims.

  • 1. How it Began; From 1991 to 2018

    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.

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