Image source: Sanket Wankhade/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
In a surprising departure from its previous stance, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which administers the historic Sabarimala Temple, pledged to support the entry of women of childbearing age into the hill shrine, in Supreme Court on February 7, 2019.
As the SC took up petitions challenging its September 28 verdict, which threw open the hilltop shrine to women of all ages, the board, which also comprise the state government nominees told a five-judge Constitution Bench that women cannot be discriminated because of biological attributes.
“Women cannot be excluded from any walk of life on biological attributes, equality is the dominant theme of the Constitution”, Rakesh Dwivedi appearing for TDB told the bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. Adding that people should gracefully accept the SC’s decision, Dwivedi said: “Article 25(1) equally entitles all persons to practice religion…equality is the dominant theme of the Constitution”.
Few months before the 2016 assembly polls, TDB had intensely opposed the PIL filed by Young Indian Lawyers Association which demanded that women of all ages must be allowed to pray at Sabarimala. The celibate character of Lord Ayyappa at the temple is a unique religious feature that was protected under the ‘Constitution’, the board had maintained.
Kerala Government on Wednesday sought the dismissal of petitions seeking review of SC’s verdict and said that its committed to implementing the order. When asked if the change in Board’s decision was out of any pressure the TDB president A Padmakumar said, “The board’s decision was not on the basis of the government stand. We were asked if the board accepts the September 28 decision of the court and we said we accept it, which is natural. There should be no discrimination against anyone in offering prayers, that is the stand we have taken.”
However, the Pandalam royal family, the custodian of the Sabarimala temple jewelry, staunchly criticized the Board’s change in stance. The family’s spokesperson, PS Verma, said “They have toed the line of the Kerala government. When they earlier said they are with the wishes and aspirations of the Sabarimala devotees, it was all a bluff. Today their true colors have surfaced and this means both the government and TDB are out to destroy the customs and traditions of the Sabarimala temple”.
Following the hearings of a batch of 65 petitions on February 8, seeking review of the verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine, the SC has reserved its decision on them as of now.
On September 28, 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by the then CJI Dipak Misra, in a 4:1 verdict had lifted the age-old prohibition on the entry of women of all ages into the shrine, stating that the ban amounted to gender discrimination and is against the ethos of the Indian Constitution.
Bindu and Kanakadurga, the two courageous women who entered the shrine despite violent protests, and prayed there under police protection in January, told the SC on Wednesday about their resolve to enter the temple again when it opens on February 12, 2019. Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the women, told the apex court that they facing social exclusion as well as a social boycott for just entering the temple.
“My right of practice and professing any religion is protected under the Constitution. Nothing can stop me from having a darshan of Lord Ayyappa and entering the temple under the law,” Jaising said on the behalf of her clients.