Sabarimala: Kerala takes another U-turn, now says ready to allow women

Bar & Bench

The Kerala government has changed its stance again in the case before the Supreme Court of India relating to entry of women of all ages in Sabarimala temple.

The government today told the court that it is ready to allow women, irrespective of their age, inside the temple. This is the second time the State is changing its stance in the case.

Bar & Bench had reported in June about the dilemma faced by the Left government in the matter after it came to power in May this year.

The case was listed today as item 302 before a Bench of Justices Dipak Misra, Ashok Bhushan and R Banumathi.

It was slated to be taken up after the Nirbhaya matter, but ended up being mentioned at 2 pm, and a lengthy discussion followed.

Perhaps wary of the previous volte face by the State, the Bench categorically asked the lawyer for Kerala, Senior Advocate Jaydeep Gupta, to unequivocally state Kerala’s stance in the matter. Gupta’s response to the query was that it supported the entry of women into the temple.

The petition challenging the ban on women between the age group 10-50 in the temple shrine was filed in Supreme Court in 2006. The LDF government, which was in power in Kerala at that time, had chosen not to oppose the petition and had filed an affidavit supporting the entry of women to the temple.

The case was then referred to a 3-judge Bench and went into cold storage for nearly 8 years before it was finally listed for hearing in 2016.

By then the UDF was in power in the State and various factors including a change in the political equations in the State made the Congress government re-think the stance of the government.

It proceeded to file an affidavit changing it’s earlier stance. Claiming that the government had made a mistake in 2007 and had omitted to consider certain facts, the affidavit stated that women cannot be permitted in the temple since the practice flows from the temple deity’s celibacy vows.

The UDF government claimed that the practice is,

“an essential and integral part of the right of practice of religion of a devotee and comes under the protective guarantee of the Constitution under Articles 25 and 26 which have been held to contain guarantee for rituals, observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are an integral part of religion.”

However, with the Left Front returning to power in May 2016, there were lot of speculations regarding whether the new government would change its stance in the case.

Devaswom Board minister Kadakampally Surendran had given first signs of the same when he had remarked that the ban on women is unjust, thus creating an uproar. He had subsequently, stated that the government will not rush to any decision but will wait for the Supreme Court decision.

In consonance with the same, the LDF government had, on July 11, submitted in Supreme court that it stands by the stance taken by UDF government. But it has now reversed its stance and chosen not to play the waiting game.

The case is now posted for hearing on February 20 next year. The Court will also consider various intervention applications on that date.

Interestingly, the Travancore Devaswom Board today suggested that the matter should be referred to a Constitution Bench.

Senior Advocate KK Venugopal, who appeared for the Devaswom Board, put forth the suggestion but Justice Dipak Misra quipped in a lighter vein that, “We’ll hear it first, otherwise it’s an insult to our intelligence”. The Devaswom Board is making this suggestion for the second time. It had sought the same during the hearing of the case on July 11.

Another similar litigation relating to entry of women in Haji Ali Dargah had just come to a close in the Supreme Court. In that matter, the Bombay High Court had decided that women should be allowed in the shrine. This was challenged by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust in Supreme Court. But subsequently the Trust had chosen not to contest the matter and had told the Supreme Court that it will implement the decision of the High Court.

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