Sabarimala Temple Entry Case - Indian Young Lawyers Association v. The State of Kerala
Court: In the Supreme Court of India (Civil Original Jurisdiction)
Citation: (2019) 11 SCC 1, 2018 (8) SCJ 609
Decided on: 28th September, 2018
Case No: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 373 of 2006
Petitioner: Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors.
Respondent: The State of Kerala & Ors.
Bench- Dipak Misra, CJI (for himself and A.M. Khanwilkar, J.), Rohinton Fali Nariman, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
Table of Contents
The temple of Sabarimala is one of the very famous temples for Hindus which is located in Kerala. The ancient temple is dedicated to the worship of ‘Lord Ayyappan’ which is also known as ‘Dharmashastha’.
Lord Ayyappan is believed to be the son of Shiva and Mohini, the feminine incarnation of Vishnu. The temple is usually managed by the Travancore Dewaswom Board. This temple has been a controversial topic for some years. This is because of the reason that it prohibits the entry of women from 10 to 50 years as it is based on the belief that Lord Ayyappan is celibate and this will question their purity.
This case comment will deal with the fact that whether the provision of prohibiting the women from entering into the temple a violation of Article 14, 15, 25, and 51A(e) of the Indian Constitution?
Facts of the case:
In the present case, Public Interest Litigation was filed by some young and enthusiastic female lawyers under the Article 32 of the Indian Constitution demanding for the issue of a writ petition commanding the Government of Kerala, Devaswom Board of Travancore, Chief Thanthri of Sabarimala to ensure the entry of women between the age of 10-50 years which is restricted based on certain usages and customs.
They also contended to declare Rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship and Section 4 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship as being unconstitutional and violative of articles 14, 15, 25, and 51A(e) of the constitution of India.
The Supreme Court accepted the petition in 2018 and a 4:1 majority said that this custom and usage discriminates on the basis of gender and it also violates the rights of Hindu women.
There are several issues which are raised in the case. These are mentioned below:-
Whether the practice of excluding women between the ages of 10-50 years of age violates articles 14, 15, 17,and articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution.
Whether the practice of excluding a certain class of women can be claimed as an “essential religious practice” under article 25 and whether a religious institution can manage its affairs in the matters of religion.
Whether a religious institution which is managed by a statutory board on the lines of the constitution and is funded out of the consolidated funds under article 290-A of the constitution violates the core fundamental rights of the constitution i.e. Article 14, 15, 17, 25, 26 and Article 51A(e).
Whether Rule 3 and Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship which gives preferences to the usages and customs and band the entry of the women inside the Sabarimala temple violative of Part III of the Indian Constitution.
These were the main core of issues that were raised in the Public Interest Litigation.
Important sections that have been mentioned throughout the case are given below:-
Section 3 of the Public Worship Act– Any place for Hindu worship shall be open for all and no person or class can be prevented from worshipping there. In case, the temple is founded by some religious denomination. It has the right to manage its affairs on the tenets of its religion.
Section 4 of the Public Worship Act– The trustee or any person in the charge of the temple has the right and has complete authority to make rules and regulations to maintain law and order and decorum at the religious places and observance of religious rites and ceremonies performed therein.
Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship- This rule defines many classes that are not permitted inside the temple such as non-Hindus, people with contagious diseases, people of unsound mind, professional beggars, and classes of women which are restricted by usages and customs.
Article 15 of the Indian Constitution- The state cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, caste, sex, religion, and place of birth. Nothing in this article can prevent the state to make special provisions for women and children and for those who are underprivileged and downtrodden.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution- In this article, it is given that no person shall be deprived of life and personal liberty except the procedure established by law.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution- The person shall not deny equality and equal protection before the law. Everyone is equal in the eyes of law. The state cannot discriminate and it is prohibited to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, caste, religion, and sex.
Article 17 of the Indian Constitution– Abolition of Untouchability. It is forbidden under the procedure and it is a crime and a punishable offense.
Article 25 of the Indian Constitution- Everyone has the right to practice and profess any religion and this cannot prevent the state to make any law regarding it. Every person has the right to regulate and manage economical, financial, political and secular activity related to the practice of his religious affairs.
Article 26 of the Indian Constitution- Everyone person has the right to manage the religious affairs, to establish the religious institutions for charitable and religious purposes, to acquire and own moveable and immoveable property, and also has the right to manage and administer that property. This provision is restricted and subjected to public order, morality, and health.
Arguments of the Parties:
Arguments raised by Appellants:
The following practice of excluding women on the basis of their sex creates a psychological effect on their mind and is violative of Article 14.
Following practice caste a stigma on women that menstruation is something impure which is the violation of Article 17 of Indian Constitution i.e. abolition of untouchability.
This practice also violates Article 21 and Article 25 of the constitution which includes freedom to practice their faith. The temple is a public place therefore it should be opened for every Hindu including a woman.
According to the petitioner the Section 3 and Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act, 1956 is not in lines with the Part III of the Indian Constitution.
Arguments raised by Respondents:
According to them, the deity of Lord Ayyapan is in the form of brahmacharya and is observed by the deep penance and celibacy by both men and women.
According to the respondents, exclusion of women from entering the temple is not the violation of Article 15 because the temple does not restrict women as a class but only the certain section of the society from 10-50 years.
The prohibition and restriction is not social discrimination but it is an essential part of the rites and rituals. These usages and customs are the part of the temple from centuries.
Only a certain section of women is restricted to avoid the slightest deviation from celibacy. It is not the violation of Article 17, as it talks about the untouchability between the social classes. This practice is not discriminatory against women.
Judgement at Glance:
Several arguments and opinions were brought up into court both by the petitioners and respondents. The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court decided the matter. Different judges had different opinions. Justice Indu Malhotra held a different opinion. According to the petitioners restricting the entry of women from 10 to 50 years is pure discrimination against them and it is violation of core fundamental rights of the constitution.
But the respondents held contradictory views. According to them, the deity of Lord Ayyappa is celibate and women should not be allowed in the temple. It is not discriminatory as it is not excluding the whole class of women just a particular section. This ritual is prevalent and this usage and customs are not new but it has been going on for centuries.
The court by the majority of 4:1 gave the verdict that restricting the entry of women is indeed discriminatory and violative of their fundamental rights. Women should be allowed in the temple. This discrimination against them based on their sex creates a deep psychological effect on their brain.
S. Mahendran V. The Secretary, Travancore Devaswom board & Ors.[i]
The division board of Kerala High Court, in this case, gave the decision in the favour of the defendants that this practice of excluding women from the temple is not violative of any fundamental rights and Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act 1965.
In this case, the trustees of the temple challenged the Madras Temple Entry Authorisation Act, 1947. It restricted the entry of Harijans from entering the premises of the temple. The petitioner claimed that this right is part of their religion. The court recognized this practice as an essential practice under the Hindu religion and a necessary part of it.
Indu Malhotra was the only female judge who held a contrary view from her fellow judges. According to her, everyone has the right to practice and profess their religion according to Article 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution. India is a very diverse pluralistic country. Judges should not delve much deeper into religious affairs and practices and affairs. Religion is a private affair. But, according to me, if a certain ritual or a usage is violating the right of a certain class and community then that should be declared unconstitutional.
Sabarimala decision is one of the boldest decisions taken by the honourable Supreme Court. Women in our society are still considered as the weaker sex and they are discriminated by the men who still hold patriarchal mindset. Supreme Court has taken a courageous step by ensuring justice to those women who are still tolerating discrimination just because of their gender because of prevalent old age customs and usages and this decision has restored the faith of judiciary in the minds of people.