Background of Sabarimala Temple issue:
Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sasha Temple is located in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala. It is one of the most popular Hindu Temple in India. The sanctum at Sabarimala is the earliest temple of Lord Ayyappa also called Sasta and Dharmasasta. “Naishtika Brahmachari” or celibate for life is the reverence for Lord Ayyappan, hence the board named Devaswom Board which looks after the working of Temple prohibits the entry of women of menstruating age. Even devotees are expected to live a life of harshness and rigour which is termed as a Vratham for 41 days before the pilgrimage.
Views of people who support women’s entry :
Putting restrictions on the entry of women into the temple violates the Fundamental Rights of an individual. These rights are under articles 14, 15,19, and 25 of the Indian Constitution. These Right deal with the Right to Equality, Right against Discrimination based on gender, Freedom of Movement, and Freedom of Religion.
Women profess that forbidding them to access or to worship shrine violates their Fundamental Rights. Article 25(1) states that anyone has the freedom to practice their religion.
The temple, Shani Shignapur also prohibits the entry of women in its main area for more than 400 years. Only after the court orders in April 2016, they allowed women to worship inside the temple.
Imposing restrictions or banning women from entering the temple shows the patriarchal society will live in. It was argued that restrictions were based because of men dominating society and not because of religion.
It is considered as the work of Judiciary and legislative to pass an order against an act that violates the Fundamental Rights of the people. Examples from the past are taken such as the Abolition of Sati, Abolition of Practice of Untouchables.
Banning entry to the temple contradicts the belief that everyone is equal to God.
Views of people against the entry of women:
People argued that Sabarimala has its own set of rules and it is considered as being a different religious cult.
The other reason stated in Sabarimala’s case was that the women menstruating are not considered pure. Hence, they are not allowed to enter.
They also stated that according to Article 15(1) of the Indian constitution, it provides citizens to access places like hotels, shops, and so on but does not specify public temple, hence Article 15 is not applied to a religious institution.
People argued that banning the entry of women is absurd. Article 25(1) of the Indian Constitution that states the Freedom to profess, practise, and propagate religion.
Supreme Court verdict:
On September 28, 2018, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Deepak Misra gave a 4-1 verdict and paved the way for the entry of women of all ages. The court observed that it is very unusual to disallow any class of a woman. Just because of some physiological reasons one should not be stopped. The Chief Justice of India and other judges were in favour of allowing women of all ages to enter. They stated that patriarchal society or men dominated society and discrimination cannot be allowed to triumph equality in worshipping. The only sole woman judge on the bench stated that the issue of Sabarimala has a deep religious connotation. It should not be changed just to maintain the secularity of the Nation.
After the court decided to open the temple for all ages which are seen as a victory of gender equality.
Protest after the verdict of Supreme Court:
On 17th October 2018 after the verdict of the Supreme Court. The temple was opened for the first time. Some women of menstruating age tried to enter the temple. They were sent back when the protest turned violent, by the police. An organization called as Sabarimala Karna Samiti asked for a statewide Hartal, BJP-led NDA Kerala Unit and Shivsena Kerala unit supported the hartal.
Several women journalists, who were trying to cover the news were assaulted by the protestors. Police had to resort to lathi-charge to disperse them.
Kerala government should as soon as possible find the option to maintain the balance between law and belief.
Important Judgements on the Essence of Religion:
- Ananda Marga Case– In this case, the Supreme court gave the judgement that the public performance of the Tandava dance is not an essential part of a religion. Even though it is specifically mentioned in the holy book of Ananda Marga sect.
- Shirur Mutt Case: In this case, the Supreme Court observed that religious institutions or organizations have complete authority to perform rituals and ceremonies and no other organization working outside that organization could interfere in the matters. On the other hand, Court put restrictions by stating that State can interfere only when the practice is a general run against the public order, health, and morality or if they affect the economic, commercial or political character of the state.
The main issue is not providing entry but to gain equal rights for all. Excluding women or any person, in general, is the total violation of Fundamental Rights. These include Article 14 Right to Equality, Article 15 Non-discrimination, and Article 25 that is Freedom of Religion. Judiciary cannot do all the reform alone instead the reforms should first come from society. Otherwise religious issues will always end up in the court.