The age-old bar on women at Kerala’s Sabarimala temple has once again become the topic of a legal battle and a raging debate after the Supreme Court made a sharp observation vying for a total lift of the ban. Though the temples of the state do not permit women to enter the shrines during their menstruating period, Sabarimala had imposed a total ban on women aged between 10-50 from worshipping at the temple.
The three-member special bench of the court headed by Justice Dipak Misra asked the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) counsel KK Venugopal on what logic the Board is not permitting women from entering the temple.
The bench also observed that no temple or governing body could bar women from entering as it is against their constitutional rights. The court has also asked the lawyer for proof to show that no women had entered the temple in its 1500-year history.
In a half-hour long debate, which saw Venugopal and the special bench engaging in a heated debate, the TDB counsel argued that the ban is based on the peculiar custom of the temple.
The devotees visit the temple after following a strict penance and austerity for 41 days and during all these days, they restrain from engaging in worldly pleasures. Moreover, the reigning deity Lord Ayyappa is a perpetual celibate, he said.
The bench has fixed the next date of hearing on 8 February. The court has also asked the state government to file a fresh affidavit before the next hearing.
The question of allowing women to Sabarimala has been debated for the last two decades in Kerala. During every pilgrim season, the topic pops up for discussion and dies a slow death once the season concludes.
During the last pilgrim season, a woman was shooed away from a government-run bus that was occupied by Sabarimala devotees. Based on the complaint filed by the woman, Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) now allows other passengers, including women, to travel in special Sabarimala buses.
The entry of non-Hindus in Guruvayur temple and entry of women to Sabarimala are the two religious issues that have been debated relentlessly for the past several years.
The recurrent rows have emerged as a result of the conflict between traditional beliefs and progressive thoughts.
G Sudhakaran, cpm state committee member and former Devaswom minister, says that it makes no sense to follow such discriminatory customs in this age.
He says the petition was filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association based on the affidavit he had filed in the apex court during his tenure as a minister. He says he presented the affidavit when the court sought the opinion of the state government after a group of women lawyers questioned the custom in 2006 and had given clear proof that young women from the Travancore royal family had visited the temple.
Sudhakaran also added that if there are any security concerns about women visiting Sabarimala during the pilgrim season, a special time could be prescribed for their visit to ensure security.
“The issue cannot be solved in a day or two as it involves many stakeholders. The court should appoint a committee comprising sociologists, lawyers and Vedic experts to review the situation,” he says.