Verdict today in Sabarimala case
SC to decide whether or not to refer to Constitution Bench bar on entry of women
The Supreme Court will on Friday pronounce verdict on whether to refer to a Constitution Bench a bunch of petitions challenging the age-old practice in Kerala’s famed Sabarimala temple to restrict entry of women of a certain age.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan will pronounce the judgment on the reference.
If the case is referred to a larger Bench, the prime issue, as the court had earlier indicated, would be whether the multitude of worshippers of Swami Ayyappa visiting the famous shrine located in Kerala form a separate religious “denomination.” If so, should their privilege to manage their religious affairs yield to the fundamental right of women to practice religion freely.
The temple prohibits women aged between 10 and 50 from undertaking pilgrimage to Sabarimala — which means women are banned from even making the arduous trek to the shrine.
The restriction finds its source in the legend that the Sabarimala temple deity, Swami Ayyappa, is a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’ and should not be disturbed. A 1991 Kerala High Court judgment supports the restriction imposed on women devotees. It had found that the restriction was in place since time immemorial and not discriminatory under the Constitution.
The three-judge Bench had on February 20 reserved its judgment on the question of referring a batch of petitions challenging the temple’s restriction to a Constitution Bench of five judges of the Supreme Court.
The three-judge Bench had even thought aloud the tentative points of reference to the Constitution Bench to decide. These included whether the restriction is a “permissible practice”; whether the Ayyappa devotees visiting Sabarimala form a religious denomination; who is the competent authority to decide on whether the restriction comes within the ambit of ‘custom’; and, finally, whether such a ‘custom’ comes under the constitutional principles.
The Bench had even indicated that the 1991 judgment of the High Court, upholding the restriction on women, was no bar on a Constitution Bench from deciding the issue afresh.
“We are not bothered by the principle of res judicata,” Justice Misra had addressed senior advocate K.K. Venugopal.
Contentious issue: A file photo of Sabarimala temple. It restricts entry of women of a certain age.