In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court allowed women irrespective of their age, to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple.
A five-member constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra, in a 4-1 majority, struck down provisions of The Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 that banned women between the age of 10 and 50 from the temple. The practice had been in place for centuries. Justice Malhotra, the lone woman on the bench, had a dissenting view.
This has sparked protests and dissent among people there. Amid high drama, two women – Kavitha Jakkal of Hyderabad based Mojo TV and Rehana Fatima an activist – were forced to return from within 500 metres of the Sabarimala temple the next day after its chief priest threatened to shut it down if they entered the shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa.
But what is the Sabarimala Case and why is it making headlines?
The Ayyappa Swamy temple in Sabarimala region of Kerala happens to be one of the most famous pilgrimage sites for Hindus in India. Every year, thousands of people undertake the holy trek to the hill temple located in Pathanamthitta district. The temple, however, does not open its doors to women of menstruating age (10 to 50 years).
The legend has it that the temple deity Ayyappa followed celibacy all through his life. Therefore, women devotees of menstruating age are considered “impure” by supporters of the ban and are prohibited from entering the temple, on the pretext that they would disturb the celibacy of the deity.
Later, as years passed by, several disputes and protests sprang up against the long-followed tradition.
The dispute over women entering the temple can be traced back to 1991 when the Kerala High Court ruled that the ban on women entering the Sabarimala temple had existed since time immemorial and that it was not discriminatory in nature as per the Constitution.
A group of five women lawyers has challenged Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, which authorises restriction on women “of menstruating age”. They moved the apex court after the Kerala HC upheld the centuries-old restriction, and ruled that only the “tantri (priest)” was empowered to decide on traditions.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, who represented the petitioners, said the restrictions went against Articles 14, 15 and 17 of the Constitution. She argued that the custom is discriminatory in nature and stigmatised women, and that women should be allowed to pray at the place of their choice.
Temple board is in favour of barring women from entering Sabarimala.
The temple management has contended in court that they are allowed to frame rules for the shrine without the state’s interference as the Ayyappa devotees form a denomination—a body with a definite identifiable character. They also said that it wasn’t discriminatory as the tradition was born from the belief that the deity is a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (eternal celibate).
Meanwhile, women devotees who ran the #Readytowait campaign opposed the petition as well. The campaign had sprung up in response to #RightToPray. They argued that only women of a certain age are barred from entering the temple and that it is okay to wait till 50 to enter the holy shrine. They also argued that the petitioners were confusing diversity of Hinduism with discrimination.
Kerala govt’s take
While the Kerala government had opposed the entry of women in 2016, it told the SC during the hearing this year that it was in favour of allowing women to pray at the temple. Advocate Jaideep Gupta, representing the state government, said it would support the entry of women of all ages to the temple.
During the hearing, the apex court observed that “what applies to a man applies to a woman” as well and that “once you open it for public, anyone can go”. The bench also said that a “woman’s right to pray was not dependent on any law but it is a Constitutional right”.
“Your (intervener) right to pray being a woman, is equal to that of a man and it is not dependent on a law to enable you to do that,” observed Justice D Y Chandrachud. Justice Nariman had observed that “menstruation is not impure”
Four judges on the bench ruled in favour of lifting the ban on women entering Sabarimala temple. CJI Dipak Misra and Justices Khanwilkar, Nariman and Chandrachud found the practice discriminatory in nature and that it violates Hindu women’s right to pray.
Here are top quotes from the majority judgment:
CJI said devotion cannot be subjected to discrimination. “Patriarchal rules have to change. Patriarchy in religion cannot be allowed to trump right to pray and practise religion”, he said. Justice Khanwilkar concurred with the CJI’s verdict.
Justice Nariman: “To exclude women of the age group 10-50 from the temple is to deny dignity to women. To treat women as children of lesser god is to blink at the Constitution”
“Religion cannot be used as cover to deny rights of worship to women and it is also against human dignity.” “Prohibition on women is due to non-religious reasons and it is a grim shadow of discrimination going on for centuries.”
All judges ruled that devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination.
(source: The Indian Express)
Who is Rehana Fathima, the prominent name in the case?
Rehana Fathima Pyarijaan Sulaiman, the activist that came forward the first day after the judgement passed and tried to enter the temple but was denied entry, incidentally, is not a Hindu. It may be noted here that only Hindus are allowed inside the Sabarimala shrine.
Rehana is a resident of Kochi and her life and career have always been shrouded in controversy. She had made headlines early this year when she posted photos in which she is shown covering her breasts with watermelons. It was to support a campaign for women’s rights and liberty started by another activist. The initiative was called ‘Maaru thurakkal samaram’ (protest to bare the breasts). It was also in protest to a derogatory comment by a professor who had likened female breasts with watermelons. Her photos had been censured by Facebook, which pulled them down immediately.
Rehana, who is employed with national cellular service provider BSNL, was also noticed on the social landscape of the country back in 2014 during the ‘Kiss of Love’ campaign in Kerala against moral policing. Her partner, filmmaker Manoj K Sreedhar, with whom she shares an “open relationship” as her Facebook biodata says, had posted their kiss on Facebook.
The 31-year-old mother of two also appeared in an art film ‘Eka’. The movie was centred around the issue of intersexuality. The posters of the film carried the tagline: ‘I am intersex. I have a penis and vagina by birth. I want to live’.
But as she’s made headlines for all the wrong reasons according to people, she has now been expelled from the Muslim community as stated in a Press Note issued by The Kerala Muslim Jamaath Council.
Here’s what people have to say about the Supreme Court’s verdict and the activist :
1. Bhaavna Arora
2. Sri Sri Ravishankar
3. Sunanda Vashisht
4. Shabbir Ahmed
5. Barkha Dutt
6. Nupur J Sharma
7. Shefali Vaidya
8. Anuraag Saxena
9. Deepika Bhardwaj
Speaking to reporters, Rajinikanth said there was no second opinion on equality for women in every sphere.
“But when you talk about a temple, every temple has its time honoured rituals, besides traditions being followed for a long time. My humble opinion is that no one should interfere in that,” Rajinikanth said.
We at WhatSheLikes think that the reason behind denying the entry of women in the temple is definitely not right as us, the women menstruating is something natural and not impure. We cannot be considered the weaker gender or won’t tolerate this gender discrimination on the basis of something we never chose voluntarily. We deserve equal rights and opportunity to show gratitude or receive blessings and perform rituals as men do.
What is your opinion on the issue? Let us know in the comments section below!