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SC reserves order on referring Sabarimala temple entry row to constitution bench

The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its order whether to refer the issue of ban on entry of women inside the sanctum sanctorum of Kerala’s famous Sabarimala temple to a Constitution Bench or not.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra asked the parties, including the amicus curiae, to furnish the questions which are likely to be referred to the larger bench.
“Judgment reserved on the question whether the matter should go to a larger bench or not,” the bench said.

“Counsel for the parties shall file written submissions/ questions which should fall under the constitutional framework, that is likely to be referred to the larger bench,” the bench said.

Earlier, on behalf of the Sabarimala Temple, senior counsel KK Venugopal told the court that there were several conflicting verdicts on Article 25 (right to religion) and Article 26 (a religious denomination’s right) that needed to be reconciled and given a harmonious construction.

Venugopal said a plain reading of Article 25 and Article 26 made it clear that religious denominations had a superior right under the Constitution as unlike citizens’ right to religion a religious denomination’s right was not subject to other fundamental rights.

Venugopal’s submission was opposed by senior counsel Indira Jaising who said any right of a religious denomination has to be subject to right to equality and Article right to non-discrimination under Article 14 and Article 15 respectively.

The top court is seized of a Public Interest Litigation against the age-old tradition of keeping women of mensurating age (10-50 years) out of the famous the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple — one of the holiest Hindu shrines — situated on a hilltop Kerala temple.

The tradition is rooted in the belief that the deity is a celibate (Naisthik Brahmachari).

The Kerala Government and the Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the temple had supported the ban. But the Kerala Government later changed its stand and supported the petitioner.

The petitioner contended that the ban violated women’s right to practice religion that included right of entry and worship.

“We will have to balance the rights before we say anything,” said the bench as it heard a PIL seeking that the ban on entry of women to Kerala’s historic temple should be immediately lifted.

The plea argues that the practice symbolises a social anathema based on gender-discrimination.

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