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A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is set to commence hearing in the case relating to the ban on entry of women in Sabarimala temple.
The case will be heard by a Bench presided by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
But how did the case reach the Supreme Court and came to be listed before a Constitution Bench? What are the issues that the Supreme Court will decide?
Sabarimala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa, is set in the hilly forests of Western Ghats in the State of Kerala.
The temple prohibits entry of women who are in their menstruating years. The said ban has statutory backing in the form of Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965.
The petition assailing the above Rule and seeking the lifting of the ban on entry of women was filed by Indian Young Lawyers Association in Supreme Court more than a decade ago – in 2006.
The Rule has been assailed on the ground of violation of Right to equality and discrimination on the basis of gender. The petition also alleges violation of Article 25 – which provides the right to practice and propagate religion.
The court had issued notice in the case the same year on August 18. The matter was referred to a 3-judge Bench on March 7, 2008.
Subsequently, it went into cold storage before it came up for hearing seven years later, on January 11, 2016.
On February 20, 2017, the Court expressed its inclination to refer the case to a Constitution Bench.
The Bench told the parties “we will deliver a judgment and refer the matter to a Constitution Bench” and reserved its judgment on the issue of whether the matter should be referred to Constitution Bench or not.
Interestingly, the Kerala government has changed its stance on the issue three times.
The LDF government, which was in power in Kerala when the petition was filed in 2006, had chosen not to oppose the petition and had filed an affidavit supporting the entry of women into the temple.
Subsequently, when the case had come up for hearing in January 2016, the UDF government, which was in power re-considered the earlier stance and filed an affidavit changing its position on the issue and supporting the ban.
There was a change in power in May 2016 and the LDF government returned to power. The LDF government initially said that it will stand by the stance of the UDF government and support the ban on women. Subsequently, it changed its stand again and told the Court that it is ready to allow women, irrespective of their age, inside the temple.
On October 13, 2017, a 3-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan referred the case to a Constitution Bench.
The following are the questions framed by the Bench for consideration by the Constitution Bench:
The case will be heard today after the hearing in the challenge to Section 377 concludes.