India’s top court scraps ban on women entering famous Hindu temple
India’s top court on Friday revoked a ban on women entering a famous Hindu temple following a decades-long legal battle, ruling that patriarchy cannot be allowed to trump faith.
The decision is the latest by the Supreme Court in recent weeks to reflect a more liberal outlook in the largely conservative and traditional society of 1.25 billion people.
Women in India have been intensifying campaigns in recent years to be allowed to enter Hindu temples and other religious sites.
The Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala – the subject of Friday’s ruling and consid- ered one of the holiest for Hindus – has traditionally barred all women of menstruating age, between 10 and 50.
The temple’s rule emanated from the still widely held belief in India that menstruating women are impure. In rural pockets of the country, many women are still made to sleep and eat separately during menstruation.
The custom in the temple in the southern state of Kerala was challenged by a clutch of petitioners who argued that women cannot be denied the constitutional right to worship.
“To treat women as children of a lesser god is to blink at the constitution itself,” said Justice D. Y. Chandrachud, part of the five-judge bench that gave a majority verdict on Friday.
Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said banning the entry of a large section of women was discriminatory and violated their rights.
“Prohibiting women [ from entering the temple] violates the right of a woman to worship and practise religion,” he said.
While most Hindu temples don’t allow women to enter when they are menstruating, the temple, commonly known as Sabarimala, was one of a few that did not allow any woman of menstruating age.
Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge on the bench, dissented with the majority verdict, saying courts must not interfere with issues concerning “deep religious sentiments.”
The case made headlines last month when a regional newspaper editor blamed devastating floods in Kerala on women wanting to enter Sabarimala.