’Everyone is entitled to enter Sabarimala’: Devaswom Board’s u-turn in Supreme Court

New Delhi: In a complete turnaround from its earlier stand that women aged between 10 and 50 should not be allowed inside the Sabarimala temple, the Travancore Dewasom Board, on Tuesday opposed the review and told the Supreme Court that it wants the verdict allowing women of all ages to stay.

Five judges of the Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, today heard more than 60 petitions, a majority of which urge a rethink of the verdict. The judges have reserved verdict on whether they would review the matter. The bench also comprises Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

The review petitions were originally scheduled to be heard on January 22, but could not be taken up as Justice Malhotra was on medical leave. Kerala has opposed the review of the verdict.

The top court’s landmark verdict on September 28 last year triggered a wave of protests across Kerala, and as many as four dozen review petitions were filed seeking review.

Here are the major updates from the Sabarimala hearing in the apec court:

  • “Everyone is entitled to enter the temple. Any practice has to be dominant with the view of equality,” said the Travancore Dewasom Board, taking the Supreme Court completely by surprise. In November, the board had asked for more time to implement the court’s order, saying infrastructure and security needed a boost if women were to enter the temple.
  • On Justice Indu Malhotra’s question that it was a complete change of its stand, the Board said, “We have taken a decision to respect the judgment of the court”. During the verdict in September, Justice Malhotra held the minority opinion that except for social evils like Sati, it was not for courts to determine which religious practices are to be struck down.
  • During the morning’s hearing, the Left-led Kerala government told the court that there was no need to review the September verdict that lifted the traditional ban.”Customs are subject to fundamental rights. If religious practice is in conflict with the Constitution, it has to go,” the government told the court.
  • Before that, most petitioners argued in favour of the exclusion of young women from the shrine, One of them told the court that the celibate nature of the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, supports exclusionary practices. “Devotees going to Sabrimala can’t question the customs and have to accept it,” the petitioner said.
  • In September, a five-judge bench led by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra passed the order, which various sections claimed pits two fundamental rights — on gender equality and the freedom to practice religion — against each other.
  • Since the verdict was passed, only two women managed to enter the temple. The rest had been forced to turn back by the huge protests by right-wing groups that often involved the use of force, threats and intimidation. The state contends that the protests are backed by the BJP and its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – an accusation the party has denied.
  • In January, Kanaka Durga, 42, and 44-year-old Bindu Ammini had walked into the shrine before dawn, escorted by the police. Kanaka Durga, who was attacked and turned out of her home by her in-laws, was allowed to return home after an order by a local court.
  • The opposition BJP and the Congress have supported the traditional view of exclusion of women, arguing that it was not for courts to interfere in religious practices.
  • In a dig at the Left-led government, PM Modi had said, “We know that the Communists do not respect India’s culture, history and spirituality”. “Our stand on the issue has always been clear, he said. “We stood at the forefront, stood for Kerala and its culture. People of Kerala and their aspirations are not a matter of convenience, but conviction”.
  • Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who earlier spoke in favour of allowing women of all ages into Sabarimala, eventually said there was also merit in the argument of traditionalists. Admitting to the change in his stance, Gandhi said he would not “be able to give an open and shut position on this”.