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The 4:1 verdict of the Supreme Court on Kerala’s Sabarimala temple case, allowing women of all ages to enter the temple on the grounds of biological and physiological discrimination has not gone down well with a majority of the people. The five-judge bench, headed by the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra with justices RF Nariman, AN Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra pronounced the verdict on September 28, with Indu Malhotra dissenting on the ground that issues of deep religious sentiments should not see the court’s interference. Many dissenting voices have raised counter arguments on the importance of the deity’s celibacy and the age-old traditions and customs attached to the sentiments of the Ayyappan followers. Two petitions have been filed by the representatives of the Sabarimala temple’s chief priest and the president of the National Ayyappa Devotees Association approaching the court for a review petition on the Supreme Court's verdict.

Along with the verdict came an unstirred chaos of protests all over Kerala which extended towards the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, and questionable pilgrim management of the temple premises, now that the gate is open to all women. Many gender-specific changes will take place in the infrastructures of the temple. According to K.Jayakumar, a former Chief Secretary of Kerala and the first Chairman of the high power committee for implementing the Sabarimala Master Plan, the master plan does not contemplate the construction of new blocks. Rather it advocates the demolition of all unnecessary buildings. This way, pilgrims will have a smooth darshan and exit. However, this ideal scenario is contradicted by the steep and narrow 18 steps that lead to the holy sanctum, creating a huge chaos. Policing at Sabarimala is more in nature of crowd control than pilgrim management, says K.Jayakumar. And with hundreds of Ayyappan devotees willing to lie down at the entry point of the temple to stop women of menstruating age from entering when it re-opens on October 17, according to a report in NDTV, one can only imagine the ruckus this verdict has created.

The ongoing debates and discussions over the Sabarimala temple case are between constitutional individual rights, right against discrimination of any form and the right to profess and practice their faith in accordance with the tenets of their religion. One fundamental right overriding the other. While the premise of the judgement, discrimination of women aged 10 to 50 on the basis of menstruation, as told is fundamentally wrong, the right of the Ayyappan devotees to practice, honour and protect their faith should be upheld too. Another important aspect of this issue is the questionable interference of the supreme court in religious independent matters. As Nitin Pai, the director of Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy rightly raised a question on whether the Supreme court would uphold its principles and open the floodgates of global religious reform if similar issues will be at play in the future.

The petition filed for the review of the Sabarimala temple issue is yet to be finalised and accepted by the government, which is trying to find an amicable solution by reaching out to the petitioners, who on the other hand has refused to meet with the Kerala government unless it decides in the favour of filing the review petition. Whether the temple should be left undisturbed and the right to practice and profess one’s faith should be upheld or if that very practice is discriminatory which required a judicial interference to pass a verdict, was the right decision, is the pertaining question.                                                                         

While the verdict of the Supreme Court has enabled women to choose whether to enter the temple or stand firm on the belief of the deity’s religious sanctum, it has definitely left the floor open to Supreme Court’s entanglement into an independent religious affair. And since the verdict is based on discrimination of women, there are also many temples where men are not allowed entry or where men cannot participate in certain rituals, like the temple of Lord Brahma at Pushkar, Rajasthan where married men are not allowed to enter the temple. Or the Bhagwati Maa temple in Kanya Kumari, Kerala where men are prohibited entry, following the myth where Maa Parvati resided for Tapasya (deep meditation) for getting Lord Shiva as her husband. Should this be counted as discrimination too where a judicial intervention is necessary?

India is a diverse land, it is not a monolith. Each culture and geographical area has its own customs, traditions, and nature. Even the meaning of the terms exclusion and discrimination differs from people to people. So, what is discrimination for some may not be a form of discrimination for the other, which is clearly the case of Sabarimala Temple with many men and women both dissenting the verdict. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision to pass a crucial verdict on the basis of ‘discrimination’ creates a certain nature of ambiguity.  

 

REFERENCES:

Pai, N. (2018, October 2). Sabarimala verdict is judicial overreach. If legislation from bench is bad enough, pontificating from it is worse. Retrieved from https://theprint.in/opinion/sabarimala-temple-ruling-distances-courts-from-indians-steeped-in-tradition/127954/

Vaidanathan, A. (2018, October 8).  Top Court’s Sabarimala Order Challenged : “No Match for Voice of the People”. Retrieved from https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/sabarimala-row-petition-in-supreme-court-challenges-order-allowing-women-of-all-ages-in-the-kerala-t-1928434

Jayakumar, K. (2018, October 2). At Sabarimala, walking the extra mile. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/at-sabarimala-walking-the-extra-mile/article25099665.ece

Image Credit: The Telegraph

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Written By Stuti Pradhan

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