Indian supreme court upholds women's right to enter Kerala temple

Hindu pilgrims queue outside the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers

Hindu pilgrims queue outside the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers

A five-judge bench will hear the case headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra with Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra.

Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman in the five-member judge bench dissented the ruling of the Supreme Court. "Society has to undergo a perceptual shift from being the propagator of hegemonic patriarchal notions of demanding more exacting standards of purity and chastity exclusively from women to be the cultivator of equality where the woman is in no way considered frailer, lesser or inferior to man", the CJI said.

Women in India have been intensifying campaigns in recent years to be allowed to enter Hindu temples and other religious sites.

Chhavi Methi, a women's rights activist, hailed the court verdict, but said its acceptance by temple authorities remained to be seen.

Two years ago, a Mumbai court ruled that it was the fundamental right of women to enter any place of worship that allows men access, and that the state should protect this right. Menstrual cycles have been treated as a taboo by attaching a stigma to it. Years of institutionalisation of biases against menstruating women have gone on to deny them the constitutionally guaranteed right to equality. "What applies to a man, applies to a woman also", the bench had observed.

The petitioner who argued against women's entry in the case, Rahul Eshwar, said he did not rule out the verdict creating a law and order situation in Kerala.

Kerala's Left Front government had favoured the entry of women of all age groups into the temple.

She cited the submission made by the respondents in the case that there are 1,000-odd temples of Lord Ayyappa where women are allowed, as the deity does not manifest in the form of "Naishtik Brahmachari" (eternal celibate).

Women were also prevented from entering Mumbai's Haji Ali Dargah mausoleum until the high court scrapped the rule in 2016. He noted that the prohibition of women is not due to religious reasons but due to non-religious reasons and it is a grim shadow of discrimination going on for centuries. The operators of a temple in Rajasthan state believe Hindu god Kartikeya curses women who enter the temple, instead of blessing them.

She said she had expected such a judgement and credited the country's legal system and Constitution for it.

Kadakampally Surendran, Kerala's communist minister for "Devaswom Boards" (public-run temple boards), said he would ask the board tasked with running the temple, the Travancore Devaswom Board, to implement the verdict.

Custom of barring women is violative of Article 25 (Clause 1) and Rule 3 (b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (authorisation of entry) Rules, 1965 is struck down by Justice Nariman.

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