Ver­dict to­day in Sabari­mala case

SC to de­cide whether or not to re­fer to Con­sti­tu­tion Bench bar on en­try of women

The Hindu - - SOUTH - Kr­ish­nadas Ra­jagopal

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 leg­end

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.

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