Sabarimala issue

Only Constitution, not custom, will guide our decision: SC

sabarimala-everest Hindu pilgrims queue outside the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers, in Kerala | Reuters

'Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest?' asks the apex court

  • We will like to understand as to what right they have to forbid a woman from entering the temple, a public place—Supreme Court bench

The Supreme Court on Monday made it clear that constitution, not custom, will be its guiding principle when it decides on whether women must be allowed into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

The court underscored this point, while hearing a petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers' Association (IYLA), questioning a centuries-old tradition that admits only men to the most holy part of the Sabarimala temple.

"Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest?" a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said on Monday.

"We will now only be guided by the rationale under the Constitution. The gravity of this petition is that gender justice is endangered," a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said.

"The reasons banning anything must be common for all and on the bedrock of the Constitution," the three-judge bench, also comprising justices V Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph, said.

At the outset of the two-hour-long hearing, it asked the counsel, supporting the ban, about constitutional principles which support the restraining order of the temple board.

"We will like to understand as to what right they have to forbid a woman from entering the temple, a public place," the bench said, visibly unimpressed with the arguments that the practice has been observed for centuries and much before the Constitution came into being.

The bench said it would examine the question as to whether a public religious place can pass such an order and "whether such a prohibition is permissible under the Constitution".

The customary practices cannot override constitutional values, it said.

"Anyone can worship the God or Goddess structured into idols. I believe in God and want to bow my head, can you say, don't come," it asked the counsel representing the Devaswom Board.

Referring to the prevalent Hindu protocol, the bench said the mother has to be greeted ahead of father, 'Kul Guru' (teacher of the clan) and 'Kul Purohit' (priest of the clan) and hence, women should not be prohibited from entering the temples.

The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the historic temple, as a practice, does not allow girls after attaining puberty to enter the premises. However, women who have crossed menopause are allowed.

The court did not agree with the submission that majority of women feel that the prevalent practice is "good" and said, "we are not going by the majoritarian view" and "we will go by the constitutional principle".

Senior advocate Indira Jaising said she opposed the discrimination on the ground of gender and the Board cannot prevent the entry of women.

The court would resume hearing on April 20 on the plea.

With agency inputs

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