7-judge SC bench to now hear case on women’s entry into Sabarimala

In a major development, the Supreme Court has taken a step back on its judgment in the Sabarimala case. In September 2018, it had thrown open the gates of the shrine in Kerala to women of all age groups. At this point in time. women of menstruating age between 10 and 50 years old, are not allowed into the temple. 

The apex court has decided to send the case to a larger bench, which may in all likelihood be a 7-member bench. Three judges – CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justices Indu Malhotra and Khanwilkar ruled in favour of sending the case to a larger bench while two others – Justices Nariman and DY Chandrachud dissented. 

The review petitions, 65 of them, did not argue the case as one of gender equality because that ran the risk of the rule being seen as discriminating against women. It was pointed out that the ban on women of a particular age group was not because they were women but because of the eternal celibate nature of the deity. The other argument is that temples and churches are sacred and private spaces for worshippers.

The Sabarimala case also received a shot in the arm when the CJI-led bench recognised Ram Lalla as a juristic person (a non-human legal entity) in the Ayodhya case. The argument is therefore that if Ram Lalla is a juristic person, why shouldn’t Ayyappa be conferred the same stature. 

What happens now is that the review petitions have been kept aside and the matter will be heard afresh. It may also take a more holistic view of entry of Muslim women into a mosque and female genital mutilation.

The Mandala season starts on Sunday. But it is significant that there is no stay on the 2018 order of the Supreme court. This means women who want to go to Sabarimala, even in the age group of 10 and 50, can go. But activists led by Rahul Easwar have said they will resist if any young woman tries to force an entry, like it happened last year.

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