India court rules temple must allow all women entry


"Exclusion of women between the age groups of ten and fifty, based on their menstrual status, from entering the temple in Sabarimala can have no place in a constitutional order founded on liberty and dignity", Justice Chandrachud said.

The precedent could affect hundreds of temples across India that now do not allow women for reasons ranging from issues around "purity" to them being barred when a guru or senior priest is in residence.

The latest, on Friday, gave all women the legal right to enter into an ancient Hindu temple, which for centuries has been closed to female devotees between the ages of 10 and 50, essentially the years in which women menstruate.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the verdict that justice Indu Malhotra, who was the lone women on the bench, had a dissenting view.

Stating that society needs to undergo a perceptual shift, Misra said: "Patriarchy in religion can not be permitted to trump over elements of pure devotion borne out of faith and the freedom to practise and profess one's religion".

Justice Malhotra also said right to equality conflicts with right to worship of devotees of Lord Ayyappa.

The temple management had contended in court that they are allowed to frame the rules and that the state should not interfere since an Ayyappa devotee form a denomination.

The court had set up the Constitution bench in October 2017 to consider whether the practice is discriminatory and hence in violation of fundamental rights, or if it qualifies as an "essential religious practice" under Article 25 of the Constitution, which allows the freedom to follow religion in a manner one chooses.

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According to the temple website, pilgrims have to observe celibacy for 41 days before entering the shrine.

Nikita Azad, a petitioner who had appealed to the Supreme Court saying that all women should have equal right to entry to the temple, said, "I think it definitely sends a message" about the court's judgment.

The worshippers constitute a religious denomination, or sect thereof, as the case maybe, following the "Ayyappan Dharma". And if so, would it not play foul of Articles 14 and 15 (3) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women on the ground of sex?

Of course, the aggrieved persons in the case were Hindu women.

Also, in the past two years, courts have unlocked the gates of Shani Shingnapur temple and Haji Ali mosque for women.

Menstruating women are not allowed to participate in religious rituals or enter temples, as they are considered "unclean" in Hinduism. "It is propounded that for the objective of constituting a religious denomination; not only the practices followed by that denomination should be different but its administration should also be distinct and separate", it said.

In 2016, hundreds of women campaigned in Maharashtra state to successfully end a ban on women entering the Shani Shingnapur temple. "But since the court ruled it we have to go by it", he said.