The Supreme Court will deliver its judgment today on the issue of entry of women of all age groups into the Sabarimala temple.
A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi in February concluded arguments and reserved the judgment on a batch of petitions seeking a review of its own verdict in 2018, which allowed the entry of women of all ages into the temple in Kerala.
It is one of the most important judgments, which is expected to be pronounced before the chief justice’s term ends this month.
On September 28, 2018, the court opened the gates of the temple in Kerala to women in the age group of 10-50, saying the ban in place was violative of their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.
A constitution bench, headed by the then CJI Dipak Misra, gave a 4:1 verdict claiming the ban led to gender discrimination. The path-breaking judgment has left the temple authorities disappointed.
Many political and religious leaders expressed disagreement with the court’s observation and felt the lifting of ban may have an adverse impact on society. It also has led to massive protests in Kerala, which resulted in a political slugfest between the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
On October 8, multiple petitions were filed in the Supreme Court seeking a review of its verdict to lift the ban, on the grounds that religious practices cannot be “tested on the basis of rationality”.
The petitions, which include review pleas and transfer pleas, have been filed in the court challenging its decision to let women enter the temple. On the last day of the hearing, in what appeared to be unprecedented, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, reversed its stand in the top court by expressing its support to its verdict.
The board told the court that discrimination on the grounds of biological attributes was not correct.
The bench had heard submissions on behalf of all parties, including the Kerala government, the TDB, Nair Service Society and others. The court had then said it would pronounce its order on whether to review the judgment or not.
The Kerala government had expressed its support for the ruling in 2018 and urged the top court not to review the judgment.
The Nair Service Society moved the court opposing its 2018 verdict, and the Kerala government, TDB and the two women who had entered the shrine had expressed their opposition to the review petitions.
Senior lawyer K Parasaran, counsel for the Nair Service Society, had urged the court to set aside its earlier verdict.
Rakesh Dwivedi, lawyer for TDB, told the court that Article 25 (1) equally entitles all persons to practise one’s religion. “Women cannot be barred on biological attributes. In the constitution, equality is the dominant theme,” said Dwivedi while voicing the board’s opinion that people should accept the top court’s verdict.
The board had earlier consistently opposed the entry of women into the shrine and its U-turn has been brought on record before the court.
In light of these circumstances, it will be interesting to see the outcome of these arguments in the Supreme Court judgment.
Meanwhile, Kerala police have stepped up security around the temple town as the two-month-long festival kicks off on Sunday.
The new season opens on Sunday and closes on January 21.
The police do not want to take any chances this time, particularly following the large-scale protest and violence that occurred last year following the Supreme Court verdict allowing all women to enter the temple. Right-wing groups chased women, preventing them from entering the temple.
The police have classified the pilgrimage season into four segments with the first two weeks being from November 15-29. During this time over 2,550 police personnel would be posted in and around the temple complex.
The second phase is from November 30 to December 14, and the third from December 15-29.
The fourth and the most important period begins from December 30 till the close of the temple.
The entire security arrangements are led by additional director general of police Sheikh Darwesh Sahib.
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