The Supreme Court on Thursday (November 14) declared that a larger bench comprising seven judges will re-examine the verdict on the entry of women between ages 10 and 50 into the Sabarimala temple. The decision was taken through a majority verdict of 3:2.
The majority verdict by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and Justices AM Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra decided to keep the pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding the entry of women into Sabarimala pending.
“Fresh opportunities to be given to all parties,” CJI Gogoi said.
However, the majority verdict did not say anything adverse against the apex court’s 2018 decision allowing women to enter the shrine, nor did it stay the earlier judgement.
The minority verdict by Justices DY Chandrachud and RF Nariman gave a dissenting view by dismissing all the review pleas and directing compliance of its September 28 decision.
The split decision came even as the 65 petitions filed — including 56 review petitions, five transfer pleas and four fresh writ petitions — triggered violent protests in Kerala.
The CJI said that the endeavour of the petitioners was to revive debate on religion and faith.
The apex court, by a majority verdict of 4:1, on September 28, 2018, had lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine in Kerala. It had held that this centuries-old Hindu religious practice was illegal and unconstitutional.
The bench will also look into other major religious issues like the entry of women into mosques and the tradition of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
Dawoodi Bohra is a sect of the Shia-Muslim community in Islam. The practice of female genital mutilation involves the partial or complete removal of a female’s genitals, usually when the girl is seven years old.
Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, who is the spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra, had claimed that genital mutilation was required since it was considered an “act of religious purity”.
The five-judge Constitution heard the review pleas in an open court and reserved its decision after hearing the parties, including Nair Service Society, Thantry of the temple, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the state government.
The TDB, which runs the Sabarimala temple, had made a U-turn to support the Supreme Court’s order allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine. The TDB had joined the Kerala government to oppose a batch of pleas seeking review of the historic verdict. The board had later asserted that its latest position was not due to any political pressure. Some right-wing activists alleged that the board changed its stand before the court under pressure from the states CPI(M)-led LDF government. The Kerala government, which had taken conflicting stands on women’s entry into the hilltop shrine, supported the verdict and urged the apex court to trash the review pleas.
Who said what?
The apex court’s decision has been lauded by the BJP. Party leader Kummanam Rajasekharan welcoming the decision said, “The fact that the case is forwarded to a seven-judge bench means that the earlier verdict was wrong. I request the Kerala government to take this seriously and not let any women enter the temple till then?”
Santhosh, BJP’s general secretary (organisation), tweeted, “Sabarimala issue referred to larger bench. Welcome decision of SC in the direction of protecting rights of devotees and upholding faith. It was never a matter of fundamental rights. It was a matter of age-old tradition accepted by society.”
#Sabarimala issue referred to larger bench … Welcome decision of SC in the direction of protecting rights of devotees & upholding faith … It was never a matter of fundamental rights .. It was a matter of age old tradition accepted by society .. @BJP4Keralam
— B L Santhosh (@blsanthosh) November 14, 2019
While many have lauded the Supreme Court’s decision, women prominent activists have demanded that women should be allowed entry to the temple till the new bench delivers the verdict.
Women’s right activist Trupti Desai has vowed the offer prayers at the shrine when it is opened for worship.
“What I understand is that till the court order comes, entry is open for women and no one should protest against it. People who say that there is no discrimination at all are wrong, because women of specific ages are not allowed there. I am going to offer prayers on November 16,” the Pune-based activist told reporters after the Supreme Court verdict.
Desai had made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the temple in November last year, weeks after the Supreme Court lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine in Kerala and held that the centuries-old Hindu religious practice was illegal and unconstitutional.
Women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan questioned why the review petition was sent to a larger bench. “SC, as a rule, rejects review petitions … Review petition in Sec 377 was rejected. But #SabarimalaVerdict is referred to larger bench! … SC is giving us the distinct impression that verdicts, treatment of review petitions are influenced by what pleases/displeases those in power,” she tweeted, referring to the court’s judgement on consensual same-sex relationship.
The majority verdict did not say anything adverse against the apex courts September 28, 2018 decision allowing women to enter the shrine nor did it stay the earlier judgement. Social activist and petitioner in the Sabarimala case, Rahul Easwar welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court to refer the case to a seven-judge bench. “There is an implicit admission that the earlier verdict should be reviewed. I think that is a positive step in the right direction and we should welcome that. Please don’t interfere in any faith matter, India is a land of great pluralism and faith freedom. It is the greatness of India that we are culturally so diverse,” he told reporters. Top of Form
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(With inputs from agencies)