Sabarimala temple verdict: Why we need to hail SC for striking down centuries-old practice

Religion has been used far too long as a tool to deny women an equal footing in society.

 |  3-minute read |   28-09-2018
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Yet another day, yet another progressive judgment that will help India hasten its march towards a modern democratic society where principles of natural justice are not just promised, but also delivered.

The four-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, has lifted a centuries-old ban on women entering the 800-year-old Sabarimala temple. A number of petitions had challenged the restrictions on the entry of women of menstrual age.

sabarimala-690_092818120428.jpgSupreme Court has thrown open the doors of Sabarimala Temple to women of all age groups. (Source: India Today)

A Constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra pronounced its judgment on the prohibition on women's entry in Kerala's famous temple.

Women said to be of menstrual age had so far been restricted from entering the temple as its presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered to be a celibate.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the verdict that justice Indu Malhotra, who was the lone women on the bench, had a dissenting view. She said: "What constitutes essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide, not for the court. India is a diverse country. Constitutional morality would allow all to practise their beliefs. The court should not interfere unless if there is any aggrieved person from that section or religion."

Of course, the aggrieved persons in the case were Hindu women. But with the 3:1 verdict throwing open the gates of the temple to women, ending years of discrimination, it is a big win which calls for a big celebration.

Justice Malhotra said: "Balance needs to be struck between religious beliefs on one hand and cherished principles of non-discrimination and equality laid down by Constitution on the other."

Religion, it must be remembered, has been used far too long as a tool to deny women an equal footing in society. Menstrual cycles have been treated as a taboo by attaching a stigma to it. Years of institutionalisation of biases against menstruating women have gone on to deny them the constitutionally guaranteed right to equality.

Perhaps, the most significant statement on the practice came from Justice Chandrachud. "The ban says presence of women deviates from celibacy. This is placing the burden of a men's celibacy on women. Stigmatises them, stereotypes them." Justice Chandrachud said.

Why should any celibate man (or any man) fear a menstruating women? 

While believers of God are often heard saying, God created everybody equal, they have gone on to exclude women from the ambit of 'everybody' treating them as children of lesser Gods not worthy of being given the same treatment as men.

supreme-court-690_092818120700.jpgThe Supreme Court has struck down a centuried-old practice that discriminated against women. (Source: PTI)

Justice Misra, on his part, said: "Devotees of Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination... Lord Ayyappa is not a separate denomination... The law and society are tasked with the task to act as levellers."

Justice Misra noted: "Rules based on biological characteristics will not muster Constitution."

Kandaru Rajeevaru, the head priest of Sabarimala, said: "We are disappointed but accept the Supreme Court verdict on women entry."

During the hearings, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the over 800-year-old Lord Ayyappa temple, had told the court that the ban is not anti-women and is voluntarily accepted by them.

The dissenting voices of the millions of women in the country, of course, never mattered to the board, which again is a men's preserve.

Significantly, the board had asked the court to steer clear of sitting in judgment on religious matters. That was clearly because the board knew the ban wouldn't stand in front of legal questioning for it was clearly an anti-constitutional practice.

On September 27, the Supreme Court had scrapped the adultery law, saying it went against gender justice.

In two straight verdicts delivered one after the other, we have covered a lot of lost ground in terms of gender justice. Alas! It has takes so long to reach here.

Also read: Adultery no longer a crime: No, the SC is not promoting moral corruption. It is recognising that adults are adults

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