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[op-ed snap] Do all women have a right to enter Sabarimala?

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Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Role of women & women’s organization

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Fundamental rights, DPSP, SC judgements

Mains level: Temple entry issue and all aspects related to it


  1. The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly struck down discriminatory religious practices, the latest of which is the triple talaq (in Shayara Bano v. Union of India, 2017)
  2. Reference of the Sabarimala entry row to a five-member Constitution Bench is in itself a radical judicial move

Violation of rights in Sabarimala temple issue

  1. Preventing women’s entry to the Sabarimala temple with an irrational and obsolete notion of “purity” clearly offends the equality clauses in the Constitution
  2. It denotes a patriarchal and partisan approach
  3. The entry prohibition takes away the woman’s right against discrimination guaranteed under Article 15(1) of the Constitution
  4. It curtails her religious freedom assured by Article 25(1)
  5. Prohibition of women’s entry to the shrine solely on the basis of womanhood and the biological features associated with womanhood is derogatory to women, which Article 51A(e) aims to renounce
  6. The classification based on age is, in essence, an act of discrimination based on sex

How did the age bar start at Sabarimala temple?

  1. The practice rests on a fragile rule and an equally fragile judgment of the Kerala High Court ( S. Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore Devaswom Board, 1991)
  2. There is no unanimity on whether the Sabarimala temple bar is ‘age-old’

Rules for facilitating temple entry and contradictory clause

  1. The very purpose of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 is to ensure entry of all Hindus to temples without being discriminatory
  2. Rule 3(b), which instigates obstruction to women’s entry on the ground of menstruation, apparently runs counter to the very object of the parent enactment and is therefore untenable

View of the framers of constitution, judiciary, and international jurists

  1. B.R. Ambedkar famously said that public temples, like public roads and schools, are places meant for public access and so the question of entry is, essentially, a question of equality
  2. The managerial rights of religious authorities under Article 26(b) of the Constitution cannot override the individual woman’s religious freedom guaranteed under Article 25(1)
  3. The former is intended to safeguard, not annihilate, the latter
  4. Liberty is tested at the individual level, for individuals alone can constitute the public in a republic
  5. In S.R. Bommai (1994), the Supreme Court said that “secularism operates as a bridge” for the country to move on from “tradition to modernity.”
  6. As American jurist Ronald Dworkin opined, political morality is to be brought into the heart of constitutional law

Not just about individual freedom

  1. It is erroneous to conceive of the issue only as one involving a fissure between individual freedom and gender justice on the one hand and religious practice on the other
  2. It also reflects a conflict among believers themselves
  3. It is essential to prevent monopolisation of religious rights by a few under the guise of management of religious institutions
  4. Article 25(2)(b) enables the state “(to provide) for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of the Hindus.”

Ready to wait till 50 to enter Sabarimala: Women’s group

  1. Who: A group claiming to represent women devotees of Kerala moved the SC
  2. What: The group sought to intervene in the pending litigation on Sabarimala temple entry rights for women aged between 10 and 50
  3. The application said: There was no prohibition on women’s entry in Sabarimala
  4. Women below 10 years and above 50 years were allowed to have the darshan of the deity
  5. According to the group some temples even celebrate the menstrual phase of women
  6. They cited the cases of Kamakhya temple in Assam and the Devi temple in Kerala’s Chenganoor

Haji Ali case: Bombay HC allows women’s entry in the dargah

  1. HC: Women should be permitted in the dargah along with men and Maharashtra government should ensure their safety
  2. The ban imposed on women is contrary to the fundamental rights of a person as provided in Constitution
  3. Background: In June 2012, an order was passed by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust banning women from entering the sanctum of the dargah
  4. The trust said the ban is integral to Islam and women cannot be permitted to touch the tombs of male saints and it is a sin for women to enter the innermost part of the dargah
  5. The NGO, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, filed a PIL in November 2014 against the ruling, and urged the court to intervene and overthrow the trust’s diktat

SC to hear arguments on Sabarimala

  1. News: Supreme Court decided to hear arguments for referring to a Constitution Bench a plea regarding restriction of women’s entry in Kerala’s Sabarimala temple
  2. Background: Women aged between 10 and 50 years are not allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple
  3. A range of questions would be discussed including whether right to equality under the Constitution can be agitated to ‘interfere’ with the Hindu tradition
  4. Whether a religious denomination centred around the temple had the fundamental right to restrict women from entering it
  5. Advocate appearing for the temple authorities warned that the Supreme Court’s decision would create ripples in the practice and restrictions of other religions like Islam and Christianity

SC: Why compel deity to see women?

  1. Context: Hearing of a petition filed against the ban on women of a certain age from entering and worshipping in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala where a celibate deity presides
  2. SC asked: Why should women compel the Sabarimala deity to grant them darshan when the deity does not want to as per tradition
  3. Argument: Access to worship for women aged between 10 and 55 at Sabarimala temple would “disturb” the celibate deity
  4. Counter: Morality based on tradition is subservient to constitutional morality that there should not be discrimination in the name of gender, sex, caste, etc.

Is spirituality the exclusive domain of men, asks SC

  1. Context: Ban on entry of women into the Sabarimala temple
  2. Court’s Questions: Whether spirituality is the exclusive domain of men, and women are incapable of attaining the spiritual self
  3. Whether the Vedas, Upanishads and scriptures discriminate between men and women
  4. Is this tradition of prohibition bound to stay on, despite the fundamental right of equality envisaged in the Constitution

Maharashtra bats for women’s entry in Haji Ali Dargah

  1. Context: Restrictions on entry of women in places of religious worship
  2. Update: The Maharashtra govt backed the entry of women into the Haji Ali Dargah, by informing Bombay HC that equality must rule over tradition and customs
  3. Contraint: If Dargah Trust is able to prove that the ban is part of their religious practice with reference to Koran
  4. Recent controversies: Sabrimala temple in Kerala and Shani Shingapur temple in Maharashtra are also facing similar challenge

Is it constitutional to keep women off Sabarimala, asks Supreme Court

  1. The SC said no temple or governing body could bar a woman from entering the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala where lakhs of devotees throng every year.
  2. The court took a swipe at religious customs and temple entry restrictions violating women’s constitutional rights.
  3. The temple board argued that the prohibition was based on custom followed for the past 50 years.
  4. The Constitution rejects discrimination on the basis of age, gender and caste.

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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