This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by jyoti yadav. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Sabarimala Entry Case: When Entry To A Temple Is Denied In God’s Own Country

For centuries women in our society have had to struggle for an equal representation in public spaces. The struggle has not only been about representation but an ideological battle with the deep rooted norms and customs in patriarchal society that view women in a place of subordination. Whether it is the Shah Bano case, a case that invalidated the practice of instant triple talaq and laid the ground for protection of rights of muslim women, or the entry of women inside Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, we have seen that the struggle has been an ongoing one and reformatory in its approach. The recent hearing by the constitution bench of the Supreme Court on July 27, 2018 on the entry of women to the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala is another long standing fight against the patriarchal dogma of the religious order which does not allow the entry of women into the temple.

The Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala region in Kerala has been in the news for its controversial provision of denying entry to women of menstruating age (ten to fifty years). This temple is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghats mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, which happens to be one of the most famous pilgrimage sites for Hindus. The prohibition to temple entry for women can be traced in the legend that the deity of the temple Lord Ayyapa was a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’ (who followed celibacy), and as per the supporters of the temple ban, women of menstruating age are regarded as “not pure” to enter the temple as that would disturb the celibacy of the deity. In the past three decades, this issue has drawn resistance and protests from diverse sections of society and has given rise to a legal dispute. The chronology of the long-standing petition in the Supreme Court on the ban of women entering temple can be traced back to 1991.

Background

In 1991, this ban to temple entry for women was challenged before the Kerala High Court in S. Mahendran Vs The Secretary, Travancore. Kerala High court ruled in favor of the prohibition of women entering the temple and claimed that these restrictions have existed since time immemorial and not discriminatory to the Constitution. This order of the High Court was implemented and followed for the next 15 years. In 2006, the ban was challenged by the Public Interest Litigation filed by the Young Lawyers Association with the Supreme Court, claiming that rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu places of Public worship (Authorisation of entry) Rules 1965 that states, “women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship” is violation of constitutional ideals of equality, non-discrimination and religious freedom. On April 25 2016, the representative advocate of the Devaswom, K.K Venugopal said: “There is a reasonable classification by which certain classes of women are excluded”. The Supreme Court asserted if the statement was implying that menstruation was associated with purity of women. The case was then referred to the Constitution Bench by the Supreme Court.

Further, in 2018, Dipak Misra, The Chief Justice of India, addressing the PIL, questioned the temple’s authority to deny entry to women. The case is being heard by a constitution bench headed by Misra along with Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. The court held that Sabarimala pilgrims could not be a separate sect or religious denomination. The customs are subjected to constitutional validity and prohibition of women entry to temple in violation of the Fundamental Rights. Justice Chandrachud claimed, “Your right to pray as a woman is not dependent on any law, it is a constitutional right”. He further added that notification issued under the rules prescribing the age restrictions on women entry as “arbitrary on the face of it”.

Major Issues

In a country like India, society and religion are inseparable from each other. The Sabarimala case has brought this idea to the fore, with a controversy between religion Vs Fundamental Rights. The legal intricacies involved in the case are complex and multi-layered. The petitioners before the Supreme Court have argued that these reasons are discriminatory against women and go against the text and spirit of the Constitution. The defenders retorted back saying that the constitution grants to every religious denomination the right to determine its own rules. The debate here lies in the fact that what it means to be a secular state is to grant autonomy and freedom to the denominations, from state interference.

While, on the other side, the same religion is seen as a public matter which strictly determines an individual’s social and moral standing in the community. This critical domain cannot be left untouched by constitutional ideals. If we look at our history, the Dalit movements for civil rights in the 20th century had the issue of temple entry at its centre. This gained massive prominence since in a religious society, temple bans for “untouchables” were not solely about denying them the right to worship but it was a matter of subordination and exclusion. It was thus, crucial to address it to acquire equality and membership of the community. As BR Ambedkar said, “the issue is not entry but equality”. Decades later the issue of equality remains central to our society. We are still living in those times where women are discriminated against by rules and customs. The attempt to get the entry for women inside the temple is a struggle not so much about putting down the religious faith or to disturb the celibacy vow of Lord Ayyappa, but it is a struggle to ensure that we do not continue to deny equal membership to women by associating ideas of purity and pollution.

 Customs And Notions Of Equality

Article 15 of the constitution prohibits the state from discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, and caste. However, Kerala High Court asserted that women who are bound by customs and rules of the religious order which prohibit their entry inside the temple, shall not be allowed to offer worship in such a situation. This provision has been extended to the entry in Sabarimala temple in respect of a particular age group of women and not women as a class. Further, the Constitution grants right to equality before law and right against discrimination based on sex. The ideology of purity and pollution would thus be a violation of the constitutional right against untouchability, i.e., Article 17. In the petition placed with the Supreme Court, the first question posed by the three-judge bench is “Whether the exclusionary practice which is based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to “discrimination” and thereby violates the Articles 14, 15 and 17?”

To address this question, it’s important to understand that women are banned from temples not just because of gender but also because of orthodox Hindu texts that propounded ways in which menstruating women pollute upper caste environment. The exclusion is based on touch and sight- as a threat of pollution. Article 14 guarantees right to equality, article 15 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and article 17 abolishes untouchability and forbids its practice.

Individual Rights Vs Group Rights

Amicus Curaie K Ramamurthy, who was a part of the Supreme Court hearing, stated that this matter falls within the purview of Article 25 of the Constitution of India and cannot be put to test on judicial parameters. So, the Supreme Court should not be contemplating on a religious practice issue, which has been in practice by a religious denomination for years. Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, another Amicus Curaie contends that it is a matter of violation of fundamental rights of women. This restriction violates women’s right to equality and is discriminatory. The right to freedom of religion for both individuals as well as groups is an essential feature of liberal democracy. These rights are guaranteed in Article 25 and 26. Article 25 grants the right to freedom of conscience and a reason to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. Article 25(2) (b) accords power to the state to make legislation in the interests of social welfare and reform. Article 26 which involves limitations imposed on the grounds of public order, morality and health grants to every religious denomination the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious purposes and to manage their affairs in matters of religion.

The clash here is between the temple’s right to decide for itself, how its religious affairs ought to be managed, the viewpoint of devotees in favor of the ban and those women seeking to assert their freedom, to not only enter and pray at the shrine but also to be recognized as equals under the constitution. It is evident from the above facts that the crux of the conflict lies in the assertion of fundamental rights vis-à-vis rights of a religious denomination. It is the individual who makes up the society and as a result, is then governed by the societal rules. However, when an individual from the same society begins to assert their rights and break away from the social norms, the conflict arises.

Conclusion

In a country like India where ideals of liberty and freedom are essential for the functioning of a healthy democracy, both individual and group rights need to be considered and the State must bridge this gap. The Sabarimala case provides the Supreme Court with an opportunity to bridge the gap between constitutional ideals and social reality. It also requires the State to revamp the constitution and look closely at the Articles mentioned above when it comes to protecting the rights of the individuals.

We live in a country that calls itself independent; we aspire for increasing the GDP. However, where we still fail as a society, as a nation, is in eradicating the deep-rooted patriarchy in the minds of its citizens. The result of such an ideology continues to exist in all spheres of our life affecting women specifically. Even today women are discriminated on grounds of gender, sex and in the recent case they have been discriminated on grounds of purity and pollution. The feminist movement and other schools of thought that support human rights have come a long way in achieving representation of women across public spaces. However, the psychological and patriarchal mindset continues to rule the majority of the population and it will take continuous reforms and development to achieve a just and equitable society. When we talk of reforms, law is the ultimate authority which derives its validity from the constitution of India; hence constitutional reforms are essential in societal reforms. In this context, the judgment is radical in its approach to rationalize religious practices prevailing in Indian society. It also ensures individual liberty and protects women’s rights in public places.

References
Rajagopal, K( 2018, July 18) Where a man can enter, a woman can go’, CJI observes in Sabrimala case. The Hindu Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/where-a-man-can-enter-a-woman-can-go-cji-observes-in-sabarimala-case/article24452080.ece
Rautray, S. (2018, July 19) Sabarimala temple case: SC backs women, says they have same right as men to enter temple. The Economic Times Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/sabarimala-temple-case-sc-backs-women-says-they-have-same-right-as-men-to-enter-temple/articleshow/65039266.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
Sivakumar, S (2018, July30) Sabarimala: ‘Deity’s Will’ Cannot Trump the Constitution on Right to Equality. The Wire Retrieved from https://thewire.in/law/sabarimala-is-temple-entry-a-destination
You must be to comment.
  1. Sanju P

    Very big social issue. untouchability regarding women during periods.it is one of them.I think now its time to fight for women and men equality everywhere. There are many things must change.we all should support this step of supreme court.because this is for us.

  2. thecrazynair

    A few flaws in your write-up….
    1) The temple has never claimed that women are impure.
    2) The premise of inequality does not apply. Women are welcome at Sabarimala both before they turn 10 and after they turn 50. In fact no other Ayyappa temple has this restriction. So women aren’t barred from worshipping the Lord.

    Hinduism has never really proclaimed women or menstruating women to be impure. Just like Hinduism didn’t decide a person’s caste by birth. These are parting gifts left behind by the British. People now have forgotten what it means to be Hindu. Hinduism is a way of life not a religion. Any person living in the land that lays between the Himalayas and the Indian ocean is a Hindu in that they are from the region. Hinduism as a religion is also a byproduct of having lived under the British rule.

    Now let me try and explain the Sabarimala Temple restriction in a simplified manner. Let’s assume you have 4 houses scattered across the country. One of these houses is your place of retreat. A place where you do not meet with anyone other than family. Does this mean you are ill-treating everyone else that wants to meet you while you are at that house?

    For the deity Ayyappa, its the same. He has several abodes. In one such abode he takes on the vow of celibacy and as such devotees respect his choice and stay off for a duration of time.

    Fight causes where inequality of women actually does happen. This one case isn’t one that falls in the category

More from jyoti yadav

Similar Posts

By Risha Chaurasia

By Prerana

By It's Ok To Talk

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below