Women's ban at Sabarimala temple: Supreme Court refers case to Constitutional Bench

The court is hearing a PIL filed in 2006 by non-profit body Indian Young Lawyers’ Association seeking entry for all women and girls to the Sabarimala shrine

The temple authorities are restricting entry of women citing tradition.

Gender activists and others waiting for today's Supreme Court judgment on the entry of women into Kerala's Sabarimala temple were slightly disappointed today after the court refused to rule one way or the other, instead referring the matter to a constitutional bench. Girls and women of menstruating age are not allowed in the premises of the temple, which houses Lord Ayyappan. You can not refuse entry to a woman who comes there.

"Such practices that exclude women from practising their freedom of religion need to be tested against the fundamental rights of the country", Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra while announcing the observation commented.

In 1991, a Kerala High Court Bench comprising of Justices K. Paripoornan and KB Marar had held that the restriction on young women by the Travancore Devaswom Board is not violative of the Constitution and nor was it violative of the provisions of the Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965. It said that this can not be done under the Constitution. It said that the government was sticking to its 2007 stand, when it filed an affidavit seeking the removal of the ban. The centuries-old practice, was questioned by the court, in January 2016.

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The larger Bench will choose whether the restriction on ladies to enter the sanctuary qualifies as a "essential religious practice" of the Hindu faith over which the summit court has no ward.

In 2008, the LDF government had filed an affidavit before the apex court supporting the entry of women of all age groups to Sabarimala, which bars women of menstruating age. And if so, would it not play foul of Articles 14 and 15 (3) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women on the ground of sex?

The temple's restriction on menstruating women has been a bone of contention in recent times, raising legal questions about women's right to pray and right to equality, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India.Article 14 of the Constitution of India guarantees that the state can not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of the law.

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