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SABRIMALA TEMPLE ISSUE: A PROGRSSIVE VERDICT

Updated: Apr 15

“A patriarchal notion cannot be allowed to trump equality in devotion.”

In the name of traditions, customs, and religious beliefs, the women were used to be ill-treated. From being treated as untouchables, to sleep on the jute mats. Unfortunately, these superstitions are still alive in many parts of India. Gender inequality has always been a social issue in India. Patriarchal norms have marked women inferior to men in every aspect, be it education, health, protection, or religion, the girl child is treated unequally.

The status of women in society is an outcome of the interpretation of religious texts and the cultural and institutional setup of religious communities.

In Hinduism, people worship women as a goddess but when it comes to their actual life, they are banned from entering the temples and kitchens even in their homes, during periods as they are considered dirty and impure at that time. Menstruation is a natural process and treating menstruation as impure and banning women of reproductive age is unmodernized and needs to address.

There are a lot of Hindu temples that ask menstruating women to stay away. If we point out, the Kamakhya temple in Assam, Jain temple in Ranakpur as well, and then the Kartikeya temple in Pushkar. There are so many places, if we keep on citing the places then the list will never come to end. However, women are facing injustice and insult in so many ways and for so many years. Among one of these places is the Sabrimala temple itself.

Sabrimala temple which is situated in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala is one of the largest pilgrimage sites. Lord Ayyapa is a deity who is worshipped there. The old tradition of the time barred the women of menstruating age from entering the temple on the assumption that the Lord Ayyapa was a celibate and did not want a fertile woman to be around him. It has been maintained by the Pujaris of the temple that only men will be allowed to enter the temple, and for 100 years, menstruating women were also not allowed to enter the temple. Therefore, the practice is somehow discriminatory.

This custom was protected by Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965. This rule allowed the ban on the entry of women from public places of worship if it was based on custom.

In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a PIL before the apex court challenging the custom of excluding women and Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965. The Apex Court on September 28, 2018, in Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. v. The State of Kerala & Ors. in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 373 of 2006 by a 4:1 majority in one of the most keenly awaited judgment has very laudably permitted entry of women of all age groups to the Sabarimala temple, holding that 'devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination. The lone women judge Justice Indu Malhotra dissented by saying that the court should not interfere in religious matters as India is a secular country. The majority ruled that the practice was violating the fundamental rights of female worshippers and Rule 3(b) of the Public Worship Rules was also held unconstitutional as it violates Article 14, 15, 17, 25, and 26 of the Indian constitution.

Not allowing the entry of women in temples can be compared with the ban on the entry of Dalit in the temples. Even Justice DY Chandrachud termed the custom as the form of “untouchability” which is not allowed in the Indian constitution.

As the Sabrimala temple was getting funds from the government and hence the government has the right to amend the laws for a temple.

Brahmacharya doesn’t mean that women cannot worship the god. Brahmacharya means observing celibacy. It doesn’t mean that the god cannot have female devotees. Devotion can’t be subjected to gender discrimination. There is a wide gap between devotion and sexual attraction, which people need to understand.

In old ages, perhaps there may be issues related to hygiene and this may be the very reason for the rule but nowadays, advanced facilities are available and women to are well aware of these facilities so, there are no such issues.

The honorable Supreme Court opened the doors of the temple on October 18, but they were again closed on October 22, 2018, as the people started to protest against women’s entry. Now again, a review petition has been filed against the verdict.

In the 21st century, isn’t is shameful that there is a place in India where a person cannot enter because of his age or gender. In a state like Kerala, whose literacy rate is highest among all states of India, it is shocking that a large number of people are protesting against the entry of young women into a temple.

Previously none of the temples allowed the entry of lower caste people. It was believed that if anyhow they entered into the temple, their eyes would burst and punishment will be given to them by God himself. But when they felt it illogical they start questioning the aged-old belief and allowed entry into the temples. The majority of higher castes opposed it but now after nearly 70 years of independence and all castes are allowed to enter the temple. Neither anyone’s eye busted nor anyone was punished by God.

If the women entered the temple many times previously under political clout and if nothing happened to Deity and the temple then what prevents women from a formal entry.

Customs are not written on stones by god. They are made by humans which were suited at that time and as time changes the customs are also needed to be changed. And it is not okay to follow these prevailing traditions and customs unquestionably. It is our responsibility to work for the betterment of cultural and traditional norms to promote equality and democratic values. It’s very difficult to accept the reforms but eventually, reforms have to happen. These traditions and customs are not more important than anyone’s dignity.

If the decision is respectfully followed, then it will be a progressive step towards eliminating the gender discriminatory practices followed in our country.

- LEGAL HUMMING

(CO-AUTHOR RASHMI TOMAR)