Sabarimala: Travancore Devaswom Board Employees objects to U-turn, opposes entry of women

Sabarimala: Travancore Devaswom Board Employees objects to U-turn, opposes entry of women

Murali Krishnan

One of the highlights of the hearing in the Sabarimala case in Supreme Court on February 6 was the stance taken by the State controlled Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) in the review petition.

The TDB had, during the hearing of the original case, taken a stand against the State and opposed entry of women. However, at the review stage, it decided to change it stance and not seek review of the decision.

This was not just based on the argument that no grounds have been made out for review. While that was one of the arguments by Senior Counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, who appeared for the TDB, Dwivedi also made submissions on how women should be included in all walks of life and should not be subject to exclusion due to biological factors.

What is interesting, however, is that the Travancore Devaswom Board Employees Front (Employees Front) has opposed the TDB on the ground that the TDB has taken a u-turn at the review stage and has concealed many facts from the court. This, the TDB Employees Front contends has necessitated it to approach the Court.

According to the written submissions filed by the Employees Front through advocates Renjith B Marar and Lakshmi N Kaimal,

“The Travancore Devaswom Board during the stage of Review Petitions has taken a U-turn from their earlier stand contrary to the counter preferred by the Board in the Writ Petition and has concealed so many things from this Hon’ble Court necessitating the Petitioner to approach this Hon’ble Court.”

The main contention of the petitioner is that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules 1965, does not deal with the entry and restriction of women between the ages of 10 to 50 years to the temple of Sabarimala.

The restriction is dealt with by the notifications of the year 1955 and 1956 dated November 27, 1956 issued by the Devaswom Commissioner of the Travancore Devaswom under the Travancore – Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act 1950.

The said notifications are issued under the Travancore cochin religious Hindu Religious Institutions Act and the Rules there under and not under the Temple Entry Act of 1965, the petition states.

As per the petition,

“none has pointed this out and the Board as well as the State of Kerala failed to appraise this Court of the same leading to an erroneous judgment on law.”

Another argument advanced by the Employees Front is that the government of Kerala is not empowered to make rules or regulations for the maintenance of order and decorum in Sabarimala temple.

But virtue of Section 4 of the Act, the said power is vested in a trustee or any person in charge of the place of public worship. The power of such trustee or person in charge will be subject to the control of the “competent authority”.

The competent authority in relation to certain areas is Travancore Devaswom Board or Cochin Devaswom Board.

Only in areas not covered by the two Devaswom Boards is Kerala government the “competent authority”. In case of Sabarimala, the competent authority is Travancore Devaswom Board, the petition contends.

Interestingly, the Employees Front also cites the inadvertent consequence of striking down Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules. As of now, women employees who are employed in temple premises in various temples across Kerala can avail five days of special casual leave during the days of menstruation. This is because, dropping of blood in the temple premises, “which is a ‘Nimitham’ as per the religious texts may cause diminishing of the might of the idol, the petition states.

Hence, “to protect the belief, the women employees of all the temple’s in Kerala are being awarded a special casual leave for a period of 5 days every month during the ‘menstruation period’, so as to preclude them from entering the temple premises during such periods.”

This is sought to be implemented by Rule 3(b). However, with the striking down of Rule 3 (b), “this special protection available to the employees would be taken away as there would be no restriction which could be enforced by the Government or any such other person”.

The written submissions of the Employees Front ends with a request to the court to fix time for arguments of each party or counsel especially in batch cases.

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Read the written submissions below.

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