WHAT IS THE SABARIMALA ISSUE

Sabarimala Temple is a Shasta temple located at Sabarimala in the district of Pathanamthitta, Kerala, India.

In the past, menstruating age women devotees were not allowed to worship in the Temple. The High Court of Kerala in 1991 forbid women to enter the Temple.

In September 2018, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that “admission to Sabarimala should be allowed to all pilgrims regardless of gender, including women in the menstruating-age group.” The Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench further held that any exception placed on women because of biological differences is in breach of the Constitution and that the ban violates the Right to Equality under Article 14 and Freedom of Religion under Article 25.

This verdict has led to protests from some quarters. Despite threats of physical assault, several women have been bold and have tried to enter Sabarimala but have failed to reach the holy place.

In 2006 a Writ Petition was filed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court by the Indian Young Lawyers Association, seeking entry of women between 10 to 50 years. The Petitioners have averred that they are gender right activist working in and around the State of Punjab, with the focus on issues of gender equality and menstrual discrimination. In 2008 the matter was referred to a 3 Judges Bench.

In the instant proceedings, in 2008, the 3 Judge Constitution Bench in majority held that prohibiting women between the age of 10 to 50 years from entering the Sabarimala temple is violative of Article 25(1) and violative of Kerela Hindu Places of Public Worship Act 1965.

In January, 2016 the Supreme Court questioned the ban, saying it couldn’t be done under the Constitution. The United Democratic Front Government of Kerala, led by Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, informed the Hon’ble Supreme Court that it was duty-bound to protect the right to practice the religion of Sabarimala devotees.

In 2017 the Supreme Court referred the case again to the Constitution Bench. A five-judge Supreme Court Bench in September 2018 permitted women of all ages to join the revered shrine. The State Government sought time to implement the verdict, however even after the entry was allowed a large number of followers camped outside the shrine to prevent the entry of women of all ages.

In February 2019 a review petition was filed challenging the 2018 Supreme Court Order. The order was expected to be announced on 14 November, 2019 to either uphold or set aside the September, 2018 order.

But on 14 November, 2019 the Supreme Court referred the review plea to a larger bench and the matter was rescheduled for 06 February, 2019.

A Supreme Court’s nine-judge Constitution Bench on 06 February, 2020 reserved its order for Monday 10 February, 2020 on whether a five-judge Bench could have made a reference to the larger Bench for hearing the Sabarimala judgment. Upon pronouncing the decision, it is expected that the Court will frame issues to be decided by the Bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and consisting of Justices R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, S. Abdul Nazeer, Subhash Reddy, B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant.

GOVIND GUPTA

ASSOCIATE

THE INDIAN LAWYER

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