New Delhi, Jul 26, 2018 : There may be "another Ayodhya" if there is any interference in the Sabarimala Temple’s ban on women, petitioners told the Supreme Court today. To which, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the Kerala temple’s custom "must stand the test of constitutional provisions".
The Kshetra Samrakshana Samiti said the five-judge constitution bench should not "tinker with the religious practice of restricting the entry of women between 10 and 50" into the renowned temple in Kerala.
"Any interference with the age-old custom will result in another Ayodhya and will create social tension in Kerala," lawyer Kailasanatha Pillay said, representing the group.
Justice Dipak Misra responded: "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 certain category of women is valid. Your custom must stand the test of constitutional provisions."
Lawyer Sai Deepak, arguing for People of Dharma, told the judges that the public character of an institution does not take away its identity. "Ayyappa devotees themselves form a ’religious denomination’ and their rights must be protected," he said, adding that the exclusion of a certain category of women does not mean discrimination.
He also told the judges that there is no connection whatsoever to the "impurity of menstruation" forming the basis of the religious practice. Menstruation is not regarded as impure, said the lawyer, referring to the Kamakhya temple in Assam where the deity Kamakhya is revered as the "bleeding goddess".
Justice YS Chandrachud intervened and observed, "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."
Yesterday, an influential body representing the Nair community in Kerala said that the temple’s deity Lord Ayappa "himself doesn’t want the presence of women between 10 and 50" and allowing them would "change the character of the deity and the temple".
The constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice is hearing a bunch of petitions that challenge the restrictions on the entry of women in the temple; women of an age to menstruate are stopped from entering the temple as its presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered to be a celibate.
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