New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to review in open court its own order which allowed women of all ages to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. The court will hear 49 petitions challenging the ruling on January 22.
The top court had, on September 28, ended a centuries-old ban on women between 10 years and 50 years to enter the shrine to celibate Lord Ayyappa. In a 4:1 majority verdict, the judges ruled that exclusion on the basis of biological and physiological features was unconstitutional and discriminatory because it denied women the right to be treated as equals.
“Restrictions can’t be treated as essential religious practice,” the top court had said in a majority four-one judgement, calling the custom “almost like untouchability”.
The SC order had triggered large-scale protests and violence when the hilltop shrine opened last month for a few days. Even after the order, no woman below 50 made it to the shrine.
The temple remains open only for 127 days in a year and can be accessed through a forest.
More than a dozen women tried to access the shrine but failed, even with heavy police escort, to come anywhere near the courtyard of the shrine.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the over 800-year-old Lord Ayyappa temple, had told the court that the ban was not anti-women and is voluntarily accepted by them. The board had also urged the top court to steer clear of sitting in judgment on sensitive religious matters.
The Sabarimala protests have triggered a political row with the BJP and the Congress both siding with devotees and targeting the Left government, which had pledged to follow the court order.