Petitioners on Thursday warned of “another Ayodhya” if the Supreme Court scrapped the ban on women’s entry into the renowned Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. The Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti told the Supreme Court that it should not "tinker with the religious practice of restricting the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 years" into the temple.
Representing the group, lawyer Kailasanatha Pillay said, "Any interference with the age-old custom will result in another Ayodhya and will create social tension in Kerala."
In response to this, Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, who was heading the five-judge constitution bench hearing the case, said that the customs "must stand the test of constitutional provisions".
"If you say it is a public temple, then the custom and essential and practice must be integral to the religion; the question is how far the practice of exclusion of a certain category of women is valid. Your custom must stand the test of constitutional provisions," CJI Misra said.
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The entry of menstruating women is banned in the Sabarimala Temple and a female only below the age of 10 or above 50 is allowed to go inside the temple.
However, another lawyer Sai Deepak, arguing for the petitioners, said that the ban on the entry of a certain category of women had no connection with the “impurity of menstruation”, neither it was discrimination.
“Ayyappa devotees themselves form a 'religious denomination' and their rights must be protected," he said and added that menstruation was not regarded as impure, referring to the Kamakhya temple of Asam where the “bleeding goddess” is worshipped.
To which, Justice YS Chandrachud said that it was constitutionally not permissible to deny entry to a section of women no matter how essential that practice is.
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"It is constitutionally impermissible to exclude a section of women on the basis of their physiological conditions. However essential that practice is, it cannot alter basic constitutional principles. If our Constitution overrides all other aspects, there cannot be exclusion of women from temples," Chandrachud observed.
The Supreme Court was hearing a bunch of petitions seeking to scrap the ban on the entry of women into the temple. However, the Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti was opposing the pleas in the apex court, citing the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of the Sabarimala Temple.