Sabarimala Case

Prelims level : Mains level : Paper - I social Empowerment
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The Supreme court ruled that women have the right to enter and pray at the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, as the fundamental right of religious freedom that is provided to “all persons” by the Constitution.

History of the case:

  • 1991- HC of Kerala upheld the state’s ban on Menstruating women from entering the temple.
  • 2006- A PIL against the Kerala HC order was filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association, contending the ban violated constitutional rights of women.
  • 2016-The Devaswom said, There is a reasonable classification by which certain class of women are excluded. The SC enquired if the defence was implying that menstruation was associated with purity of women.
  • 2017- The SC referred the Sabarimala case to the Constitution Bench.

Issues related:

  • The exclusionary practice which is based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to ‘discrimination’ and thereby violates the very core of Articles 14, 15 and 17 and not protected by ‘morality’ as used in Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
  • The management of the Sabarimala temple had earlier told the apex court that the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years was because they cannot maintain “purity” on account of menstruation.
  • The second issue referred to the constitution bench is whether the practice of excluding such women constitutes an “essential religious practice” under Article 25 of the Constitution and whether a religious institution can assert a claim in that regard under the umbrella of right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion.
  • The constitution bench would also deal with whether the Ayyappa temple has a denominational character and “if so, is it permissible on the part of a ‘religious denomination’ managed by a statutory board and financed under Article 290-A of the Constitution out of Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to indulge in such practice violating constitutional principles/morality embedded in Articles 14, 15(3), 39(a) and 51-A(e)”.
  • The apex court had framed another question as to whether Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules permits ‘religious denomination’ to ban entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 years.
  • “And if so, would it not play foul of Articles 14 and 15 (3) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women on the ground of sex,” it had said.
  • Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 says that “women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall be included in the class of persons who shall not be entitled to offer worship in any place of worship.”
  • It had also raised the question whether this rule is ultra vires the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 and, “if treated to be intra vires, whether it will be violative of the provisions of Part III of the Constitution.

Sabarimala temple:

  • The temple is located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve on a hilltop in the Western Ghats of Pathanamthitta district.
  • The pilgrimage to the temple is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world. Over 45–50 million devotees visit the Hindu temple every year.
  • The Ayyappa temple is open for worship only during Mandala pooja – 15 November to 26 December.
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