Sabarimala Case Review: A Critical Analysis

7 Jul 2023  Read 6893 Views

The Sabarimala temple in Kerala, India, has been at the centre of a legal and social debate surrounding the entry of women into the temple. The main issue that revolves around the shrine is regarding entry of women of menstruating age because  Lord Ayappa, the deity of the temple, is believed to be celibate, and the restriction aims to uphold his Brahmacharya or celibacy

Things changed when on September 28th 2018, a 5-judge constitutional bench with a 4:1 majority held that the prohibition of women at the Sabarimala Temple is unconstitutional. In this blog post, we will delve into the significance of the Sabarimala case, explore the dissenting opinion, and examine other related issues raised during the case.

What was the Sabarimala Case?

Case Name- Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala (2018)

Bench- Chief Justice of India (the then CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and members Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra

Only Dissenting Judge- Justice Indu Malhotra

  • In the 12th century, Manikandan, a Prince from the Pandalam dynasty, is believed to have meditated at the Sabarimala temple and attained oneness with Lord Ayyappan, who is admired as a pure deity and is believed to be an eternal celibate. It is said that out of all forms of Brahmachari, he belongs to Naishtika Brahmachari. In this type of brahmacharyanam, “Person should not go in contact with the opposite gender”

  • To worship Lord Ayyappan at the Sabarimala temple, devotees traditionally observe a 40-day vratham (a period of penance) during which they undertake certain practices and abstain from specific activities. These practices include:

    • Wearing a sacred mala (rudraksha) throughout the vratham period.

    • Refraining from engaging in any form of sexual intercourse.

    • Abstaining from smoking and drinking.

    • Maintaining control over one's speech and emotions, such as anger.

Now the focal point of the debate revolves around the question of how it is justifiable for a menstruating woman to enter the premises of the Sabarimala temple, considering that even men are required to undergo a rigorous test of purity themselves.

Tell us in the comment section below what do you make of the 2018 Supreme Court Judgment?

Sabarimala Verdict and its Aftermath

The Sabarimala case has seen the involvement of various parties presenting their arguments before the court. The following is the timeline of events that took place in the heart of Kerala.

  1. The issue first came into light in the year 1991, when the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), the board that manages the affairs of the Sabarimala temple, defended the tradition and customs followed at the temple, arguing that they were protected under Article 25 of the Constitution, guaranteeing the freedom of religion.

  2. Kerala High Court also upheld the traditional practice of prohibiting women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 from entering the Sabarimala temple.

  3. The court ruled that this restriction was based on the devotees' custom and essential religious practices and did not violate the Constitution.

  4.  In the Summer of 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a plea in Supreme Court seeking to ensure the entry of female devotees between the age group of 10-50 at the Lord Ayappa Temple at Sabarimala.

Petition in the Supreme Court

  • The Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a petition challenging the Kerala High Court's decision, arguing that it violated the fundamental rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution.

Supreme Court Proceedings:

  • The case reached the Supreme Court of India in 2018.

  • A Constitution Bench comprising five judges heard the case and examined the constitutional validity of the temple's practice.

  • The court focused on the interplay between religious practices, constitutional rights, and gender equality.

  • State of Kerala: Initially, the state government supported the entry of women of all ages into the temple, emphasizing gender equality. However, in subsequent stages of the case, the state government changed its stance and supported the existing restriction on women of menstruating age.

  • Justices Misra, Khanwilkar, and Chandrachud held that the custom was not an essential religious practice. Although the majority judges did not explicitly address the issue of whether the custom contravened the right to equality under Article 14, they stated that the practice was discriminatory according to Article 15. 

  • Justice Chandrachud (Current CJI)  emphasized that the right against untouchability encompasses all forms of social exclusion based on notions of 'purity'. Additionally, Rule 3(b) of the Public Worship Rules, which permitted the prohibition of women, was declared unconstitutional.

  •  Justice Indu Malhotra, The only female judge in the 5-Judge Constitutional Bench, dissented. She also opined that SC should not have heard this matter in the first place and this is a issue involving deep religious sentiments and comes under the banner of Article 25 i.e Freedom of Religion.

  • SC, in their verdict, ruled that the Sabarimala Temple’s exclusionary custom is unconstitutional and thus the entry of women should be allowed. The custom prohibited women of menstuating aged between 10 years and 50 years old from entering the temple. The judgment held that the custom violated the fundamental right to freedom of religion of female worshippers under Article 25 of the Constitution

Aftermath of the Sabarimala Case

In this section, we will be discussing the aftermath of the 2018 Judgment and other issues of grave importance that share relevance with the Sabarimala Case:

  •  On January 13th, 2020, a new Bench composed of the following judges began hearing the overarching referral questions: Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, Nageswara Rao, Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, S. Abdul Nazeer, R. Subhash Reddy, B.R. Gavai, and Surya Kant.

  • Before commencing final arguments on the referral questions, a question arose regarding whether a Bench hearing a review petition could make a referral in the first place. 

  • The opposing counsels argued that the Court's review jurisdiction was too narrow to allow for a referral. However, on February 10th, the nine-judge Bench upheld the referral order issued in the November 14th, 2019 judgment.

Other Cases Linked to this Case

The case has also been linked to three other pending cases. These cases pertain to:

1. Muslim women's right to enter mosques.

  • With the Sabrimala Judgment, Muslim women continue their ongoing struggle for gender equality and access to religious spaces. 

  • The Sabarimala judgment has sparked ray of hope and raised questions about the discrimination faced by Muslim women who are denied entry into mosques based on gender. 

  • It emphasizes the need to challenge discriminatory practices and promote inclusivity within religious institutions, ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all individuals.

2. Parsi women's right to enter a Fire Temple after marrying a non-Parsi.

  •   The Sabarimala case has also shed light on the rights of Parsi women to enter a Fire Temple after marrying a non-Parsi. This brings our  attention to the discrimination faced by women who are denied entry into certain religious spaces based on their marital choices. 

  • The Sabarimala judgment has provided hope for challenging such discriminatory practices and advocating for equal rights for Parsi women, allowing them to freely practice their faith without facing unnecessary restrictions based on marriage.

3. The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) among the Dawoodi Bohra community.

  • The women of the Bohra community in this wave of feminism seek their rights against the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Sabarimala case share relevance in the context of gender rights and constitutional considerations. 

  • While the Sabarimala case dealt with the entry of women into a temple, the issue of FGM in the Bohra community raises concerns about bodily autonomy, decisional autonomy, and the right to privacy.

  • FGM involves the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia, often performed on young girls without their informed consent. This practice is considered harmful, violating the rights to bodily integrity and dignity

  • Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, including the right to privacy. Female circumcision, as practised by the Bohra community, can be seen as a violation of this right. It deprives girls and women of their decisional autonomy, which is essential for the exercise of their right to privacy.

Important: The Sabarimala issue clubbed with these three other cases is referred to as REVIEW PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 3358/2018 In WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 373/2006; Kantaru Rajeevaru v. Indian Young Lawyers Association. This means that whenever the Sabarimala case will be reviewed, it will be reviewed with these three other cases.

Conclusion

The Sabarimala case has been a key event in the context of the religious, sentimental values of citizens. The 2018 case is responsible for igniting crucial conversations surrounding gender rights, religious practices, and individual liberties. The judgment of September 2018, which declared the prohibition on women's entry into the Sabarimala temple unconstitutional, brought hope for gender equality and inclusivity in religious spaces.

It challenged age-old traditions and emphasized the importance of upholding fundamental rights, particularly the right to freedom of religion and the right to equality. The case's significance goes beyond the specific context of Sabarimala, extending to other issues such as Muslim women's rights to enter mosques, Parsi women's rights, and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Bohra community. The Sabarimala case has set a precedent for addressing discriminatory practices, promoting gender equality, and safeguarding individual rights within the realm of religion. But should we show strict adherance to our constitution, especially in religious matters of deep sentiments? Do let us know what you guys think.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. What is the Sabarimala case of 2018?

  • The Sabarimala case of 2018 was a significant judgement that turned the tide in Indian History as it declared the prohibition on women's entry into the Sabarimala temple as unconstitutional. It emphasized gender equality, individual rights, and the right to freedom of religion, setting a precedent for challenging discriminatory practices within religious spaces.

  1. How did the Sabarimala case give hope for other issues?

  • The Sabarimala case gave hope for other issues, such as the rights of Muslim women to enter mosques and Parsi women's rights. It demonstrated that discriminatory practices can be challenged and that inclusivity and gender equality can be promoted within religious institutions.

  1. How does the Sabarimala case relate to the rights of Muslim women to enter mosques?

  • The Sabarimala case relates to the rights of Muslim women to enter mosques as both cases involve gender-based restrictions on entry into religious spaces. The judgment in the Sabarimala case has sparked hope for challenging such discrimination faced by Muslim women and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

  1. What is the connection between the Sabarimala case and the rights of Parsi women?

  • The Sabarimala case sheds light on the rights of Parsi women to enter a Fire Temple after marrying a non-Parsi. It raises questions about the discrimination faced by women based on their marital choices and provides hope for challenging such discriminatory practices and advocating for equal rights for Parsi women.

  1. What is the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Bohra community, and how it is related to the Sabrimala Case?

  • The Sabarimala case shares relevance with the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Bohra community as both cases highlight concerns about bodily autonomy, decisional autonomy, and the right to privacy. The judgment in the Sabarimala case emphasizes individual rights and the importance of protecting individuals from practices that violate their bodily integrity and dignity, such as FGM.

About the Author: Devansh Dixit | 35 Post(s)

Devansh is a 4th-year law student from Amity Law School Noida (Uttar Pradesh), currently interning at Finology Legal. He is specialising in business and commercial laws. 

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