Insights into Editorial: Do all women have a right to enter Sabarimala?

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Insights into Editorial: Do all women have a right to enter Sabarimala?


 

sabarimala temple

 

Context:

The Supreme Court referred the matter relating to the entry of women in Kerala’s Sabarimala shrine to a five-judge Constitution bench.

A bench headed by chief justice said the issue of entry of women would be tested against the fundamental rights of Article 14 (equality under law) and Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste etc) of the Constitution of India.

The court is hearing PIL filed in 2006 by non-profit body Indian Young Lawyers’ Association, seeking entry for all women and girls to the Sabarimala shrine. Girls and women of menstruating age are not allowed in the premises of the temple, which houses Lord Ayyappan.

Constitutional vs Cultural dimensions

  • The case has constitutional as well as cultural dimensions. Displaying great cultural sensitivity, a division Bench of the Kerala High Court had, back in 1991, pointed out that “age regulation” in Sabarimala is not unconstitutional. 
  • In Sabarimala, the deity is worshipped in the form of Naishtika Brahmacharior a celibate, as pointed out by the Kerala High Court.
  • The supporters of Temple ban say that
    • This particular deity system is Tantric in nature and not Vedic.
    • In the Tantric system, the temple is not a prayer hall but an energy centre; the deity is not God who is omnipresent, but a source of energy (chaithanya) in a particular spiritual space. 
    • Uniqueness is the soul of every temple. Lakhs of women congregate in Sabarimala every year. There is only one limitation: they should not be between 10 and 50, because of the specific nature of the Prathishta(idol) and the vow celibacy associated with the idol. 
    • The restriction finds its source in the legend that the Sabarimala temple deity – Swami Ayyappa – is a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’ – and should not be disturbed.

Why does preventing women’s entry to the temple discriminatory in nature?

Preventing women’s entry to the Sabarimala temple with an irrational and obsolete notion of “purity” clearly offends the equality clauses in the Constitution. In any civilised society, gender equality is to be treated as one of the core values. 

  • It denotes a patriarchal and partisan approach.
  • The entry prohibition takes away the woman’s right against discrimination guaranteed under Article 15(1) of the Constitution.
  • It curtails her religious freedom assured by Article 25(1).
  • Prohibition of women’s entry to the shrine solely on the basis of womanhood and the biological features associated with womanhood is derogatory to women, which Article 51A (e) aims to renounce.
  • The classification based on age is an act of discrimination based on sex.

What will constitution bench decide on this issue?

The court questioned how a temple managed by a statutory board — the Travancore Devaswom Board — and financed out of the Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu “can indulge in practices violating constitutional principles/ morality.”

The temple authorities have justified the restriction, saying it is a practice founded in tradition.

  • The Constitution Bench will decide whether Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 allows a ‘religious denomination’ to ban entry of women between the ages of 10 to 50 years.
  • If so, does this amount to discrimination and violation of the fundamental rights to equality and gender justice.
  • The larger Bench will decide whether the ban qualifies as an “essential religious practice” of the Hindu faith, over which the court has no jurisdiction.
  • Most importantly the larger Bench will decide if a temple managed by a statutory board can ‘indulge’ in the practice of banning women from entry on moral grounds.

Way Forward

The core values of our democracy and Indic civilisation are respect for diversity among the enormous range of communities cohabiting in India with substantial differences (as well as commonalities) in matters of faith, cultural practices, value systems, family structure, dress codes, food habits and ways of relating to the world as well as the divine. 

This mutual respect for differences in ways of being, worship, singing, dancing, clothing, cooking, and so on is what enabled the rich diversity of India to survive through millennia.

  • In this context, it is essential to prevent monopolisation of religious rights by a few under the guise of management of religious institutions
  • Those at the helm of affairs can only manage the institutions in a lawful and fair manner and they cannot be permitted to manage others’ freedom.
  • The media and society would do well not to politicise or bring any ‘-ism’ or ideology to the temple.