• The Temple

Sabrimala is a temple complex situated inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala, India. The temple is devoted to the Hindu celibate deity “Lord Ayyappan” and as per belief; he is the son of Shiva and Mohini (the female avatar of Vishnu). It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an estimate of 17-30 million devotees visiting each year. It has outshined all the accepted concepts of a pilgrim centre.

  • The Issue

The issue which arose regarding the Sabrimala temple was women and young girls of menstruating age were not allowed to enter the temple since they were considered as “Impure”, in order to offer their prayers to the celibate deity Lord Ayyappan.

  • The Beginning of an Enchanting Episode
  • Kerala High Court

In 1990, S. Mahendran filed a petition in the Kerala High Court, alleging that young women were visiting the temple for non-religious purposes. There were evidences to show that women were visiting the temple to conduct first rice feeding ceremony of their children.

The Kerala High Court banned the entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 years from entering and worshipping at the temple. The reason behind such a judgment by the Court was prohibition on women of menstruating age to enter the Sabrimala temple had become a “Usage”, which was being followed by the people of Kerala since the time immemorial.

Also, the Court had directed the Kerala Government to use the police force to enforce the order to ban the entry of women to the temple. It further held that such restriction of not allowing women to enter Sabrimala was imposed by the Devaswom Board and was not violative of
Articles 15, 25 & 26 of the Constitution of India and the  Place of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965, as there is no prohibition between one section and another section or between one class and another class among the Hindus in the case of entry to Sabrimala whereas the prohibition is only in respect of women of a specific age group and not women as a class.

  • Supreme Court

In the year 2006, six women who were the members of the Indian Young Lawyers Association, filed a petition to the Supreme Court for the lifting of the ban against women in their menstruating age to enter the Sabrimala Temple. They further alleged that the practice was a violation of their constitutional rights, thereby questioning the validity of provisions in the Kerala Hindu places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965 which aided it.

On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court with a majority 4:1 ruled that the women of all ages can visit and worship in the Sabrimala temple. It was of the view that not allowing women in their menstruating years into the temple is ultra vires the Constitution and all women should be permitted to enter the temple.  The Judgment was delivered by 5 Judge Constitution Bench comprising of then CJI Dipak Misra, Justices R.F. Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. Justice Indu Malhotra was the only Judge who had the dissenting opinion.

Failed Attempt

Before the Supreme Court Verdict: A few women of menstruating age had entered the temple and it was purified using tantric rituals.

Post Supreme Court Verdict:  No women between the ages of ten to fifty were able to go inside the temple. Even after the Court delivered its judgment in favor of women and lifted the age old ban, there seemed no cure to the issue of Sabrimala pertaining to women as they were still being stopped from entering the temple.           

Numerous protests took place at several base camps when Sabrimala was opened for pilgrims for the first time after the Supreme Court verdict.

When two women of menstruating age tried o enter the temple in the year 2018, they were blocked by protestors. One woman was also arrested on the ground of hurting religious sentiments for posting her photo on one of the social networking websites in which she was seen sitting in an allegedly ‘obscene pose’, dressed up as a devotee of Ayyappan.

The Present Position

Two women aged below fifty years of age entered the Sabrimala temple on 2nd January 2019 along with the escort of the police personnel and became the first to do so, since the judgment of Supreme Court.

On 4th January, 2019, a forty six year old Sri Lankan woman entered the temple and offered her prayers to Lord Ayyappan at Sabrimala Temple.

On 18 January 2019, the Kerala Government has notified the Supreme Court that fifty one women of menstruating age were able to fight the protestors to enter the Sabrimala temple and offer their prayers to the celibate deity.

Conclusion

The issue involved in the case does not emphasize on the fact that women are impure so that they are unable to enter the temple, as the eminence does not particularly point towards those specific five days. The fact that women at that point of age are capable of creating a life, and the deity being celibate, chose not to involve such devotees.

The Patriarchal affair continues to persist in our society which has affected the women especially at a larger scale. The conception of the notion that women are impure during their menstruation period is a complete myth; however it is still believed to be true by many. Also, there must be realization that there is a rational cause behind this specific notion; one must be given respect for the sake of the devotees that are “Crores in numbers.” Women are not prohibited legally and have no constraints yet it is the profound system of belief and rules which are collated by the real idea of impurity which does not permit them to even make an entry during the menstruation period. These implanted forms of faith are to be broken free from, restricting them to be passed onto the next generation and scraping the age old prejudice against women.

This article has been authored by Gurpreet Kaur Arora from Team LawSkills.

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