Divisiveness is bad we all know. But even mosques in Kerala do not permit menstruating women to pray. Then why discrimination is a big question to be answered in the context of Sabarimala.
In a case of Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala, the Supreme Court by a 4-1 majority held the practice of the Sabarimala temple of prohibiting entry of women of menstruating age as illegal and unconstitutional. In my opinion, the majority judgement is incorrect, and the correct judgement is that of Justice Indu Malhotra, the sole dissenting judge.
In a broader view, if you think, you feel why should they be deprived of their right to pray in any temple. In all other temples also menstruating women do not enter for a week or so on their own belief.
Here, in this case, Lord Ayyappa is believed to be an ardent bachelor or Brahmachari and therefore people/devotees in Kerala follow the age-old tradition faithfully in pursuit of happiness to please Lord Ayyappa. Here, devotees’ interest, faith, and hygiene should have been given primary importance by the Hon’ble SC while passing the judgement that it be opened to women of all ages.
Here women have been following the age-old tradition happily and faithfully considering the history of Lord Ayyappa. Therefore, there is no need of such a judgement from the Hon’ ble SC is what is largely felt by the people of Kerala.
It was held earlier by the Kerala High Court that this prohibition of entry to women of menstruating age was a practice prevailing for centuries. It was not aimed at degrading women but was based on the belief that Lord Ayyappa, the temple deity, was a Naishtik Brahmachari. The devotees practise celibacy and austerity for 41 days before starting their journey to the temple.
The issues raised in the present writ petition have far-reaching ramifications and implications not only for the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, but for all places of worship of various religions in this country, which have their own beliefs, practices, customs and usages. In a secular polity, issues which are a matter of deep religious faith and sentiments must not ordinarily be interfered with by the courts.
In the theatre of life, it seems, man has put the autograph and there is no space for a woman even to put her signature. To treat women as children of a lesser god is to blink at the Constitution.
But the real crux of the problem is rather ticklish. Traditionally, to resolve tensions of this kind, the Supreme Court has relied on a very particular jurisprudence that it has carved for itself to determine what manners of rituals and beliefs deserve special constitutional protection. This doctrine requires the court to define what constitutes, in its own words, an “essential religious practice”. Judging by its reaction to arguments made in Indian Young Lawyers Association, it appears that the Bench sees this canon as integral to how the case ought to now be decided. Indeed, the petitioners have argued that the ban enforced on menstruating women from entering the Sabarimala shrine does not constitute a core foundation of the assumed religious denomination. On the other hand, the Devaswom Board contends that established customs deserve respect, that this particular Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala is a celibate, and that women of menstruating age are, therefore, forbidden from entering the temple.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)