SABARIMALA TEMPLE ISSUE
Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Indian Young Lawyers Association Vs. State of Kerala. The question is about barring the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years into the Sabarimala temple. The Sabarimala temple, considered the abode of Lord Ayappa, is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District of Kerala. It prohibits the entry of women in their ‘menstruating years’ (between the ages of 10 to 50) to a place of public worship. Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 (“Public Worship Rules”) justifies this practice as being based on “custom and usage”. In 2006, Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a public interest litigation petition before the Supreme Court challenging Sabrimala temple’s practice of prohibiting the entry of women. The Association argues that this prohibition violates the right to equality under Article 14 and the freedom of religion under Article 25.
SETTLING THE ISSUE PERTAINING TO CULTURE IS DIFFICULT
The case appears to be an easy one to resolve but, the religious freedom clauses in Constitution are fraught with a special complexity. The conflicts represent deep, long-standing and irreconcilable divisions in society. They touch issues of personal belief and conviction. Constitutional amendments and judicial decisions on such matters are also consciously refrained from directly addressing them. Probably, that is the reason why the Constitution framers deliberately placed the provision of Uniform Civil Code in unenforceable ‘Directive Principles’ of State Policy.
PROVISIONS IN THE CONSTITUTION RELATING TO THE ISSUE
It recognises the right to freedom of conscience and a right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. There are some exceptions like public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part (also crucially to the guarantee of other fundamental rights). Article 25(2)(b) creates a further exception to the right by giving the State a power to make Legislation, in the interests of social welfare and reform.
It accords every religious denomination, the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious purposes and to manage their own affairs in matters of religion. It is also subject to limitations imposed on the grounds of public order, morality and health.
SRI VENKATARAMANA DEVARU Vs. STATE OF MYSORE (1958)
It examined the validity of the Madras Temple Entry Authorisation Act of 1947. This was introduced with a view to removing the disabilities imposed by custom or usage on certain classes of Hindus against entry into a Hindu temple. The Court upheld the law on the ground that statutes under clause 2(b) to Article 25 served as broad exceptions to the freedom of religion guaranteed by both Articles 25 and 26.
- Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore
In 1991, this ban had been challenged before the Kerala High Court in S. Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore. The Court ruled that the ban was constitutional and justified, as it was a long-standing custom prevailing since time immemorial.
ARGUMENTS PUT FORTH IN SABRIMALA CASE IN THE SUPREME COURT
BY Travancore Devaswom Board:
Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, states, “Women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship.” By placing reliance on these rules, the Sabarimala temple prohibits women aged between 10 and 50 years from entering the shrine. Travancore Devaswom Board claims that its deity, Lord Ayyappa, is a “Naishtika Brahmachari (eternal celibate)”, allowing young women to enter the temple would affect the idol’s “celibacy” and “austerity”. It also contends that established customs deserve respect. It is also argued that Sabarimala temple has a denominational character.
BY INDIAN YOUNG LAWYERS ASSOCIATION:
The ban enforced on menstruating women from entering the Sabarimala shrine does not constitute a core foundation of the assumed religious denomination. Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules permits a ‘religious denomination’ to ban the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 years is violative of Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women on the ground of sex as the exclusionary practice based on a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to ‘discrimination’. Since, Sabarimala Temple is managed out of Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu it can not indulge in practices violating constitutional principles/morality embedded in Articles 14, 15(3), 39(a) and 51-A(e).