Court must not interfere in ‘deeply religious’ issues: Indu Malhotra’s dissent in Sabarimala verdict

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that women, irrespective of age, can enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, thereby putting an end to a centuries-old tradition – which restricted women aged 10 to 50 (the typical duration of time when a woman menstruates) from entering its premises.

The constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra – which also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra – gave a 4:1 verdict, wherein Malhotra turned out to be the dissenting judge.

In her dissent opinion, Malhotra – the only female judge on the bench – said that issue is critical and to various religion and that cases involving “deep religious sentiments” should not be “ordinarily” be interfered by the court.

‘Deity is protected by Article 25’

“Issues of deep religious sentiments should not be ordinarily be interfered by the Court. The Sabarimala shrine and the deity is protected by Article 25 of Constitution of India and the religious practices cannot be solely tested on the basis of Article 14,” Malhotra said.

While adding that “notion of rationality cannot be invoked in the matters of religion” and in a diverse country like India, Constitutional morality should allow everybody to practise their beliefs, unless there is an aggrieved person from the particular section or religion.

‘India is a diverse country’

“What constitutes essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide, not for the court. India is a diverse country. Constitutional morality would allow all to practise their beliefs. The court should not interfere unless if there is any aggrieved person from that section or religion,” Malhotra said.

Exception in issues like ‘Sati’

While stating that the petition against this religious practice does not deserve to be entertained, Malhotra stressed that worshippers of Sabarimala temple constitute a separate religious denomination and that it was not upto the court to decide which religious practices should be struck down, except in issues of social evil like “Sati”.

What other judges on the bench had to say:

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”, CJI Dipak Misra 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”
  • Justice Chandrachud: “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 of the four judges ruled that devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination.