God is everywhere but if a woman finds her faith in a temple idol, how can tradition stand in the way of her right to worship? This question was posed by the Supreme Court to the Sabarimala authorities on the “class grievance” of women denied entry at the Kerala temple, presided over by a celibate deity.
“Any god or goddess can be worshipped anywhere by anyone. The power is all around us, omniscient. But you have structured god into an idol. Women want to come to your temple and worship him there ... Why don’t you allow them,” Justice Dipak Misra asked on Monday.
The Bench, also comprising Justices V. Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph, is hearing a petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association and five women lawyers seeking a direction to allow the entry of women in the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple without age restriction. Women in the age group of 10-50 are not allowed entry.
The ban, Justice Misra observed, is considered “grave” as it endangers gender justice. “There is this tradition, we understand, of not allowing women of a certain age. But what we will decide is whether this tradition, this source of the ban, overrides constitutional provisions... What right do you (temple authorities) have to forbid women from entering any part of the temple? This is a class grievance from women denied their right to worship,” Justice Misra said.
At one point, Justice Misra asked senior advocate K. Parasaran, who is assisting the court, what the “protocol” of greeting would be if “your mother, father, Kul guru and Kul purohit” are sitting in the same room.
“The protocol is to greet the mother first,” Justice Misra himself responded.
The ban was enforced under Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 (women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship).Ban upheld in 1991
The Kerala High Court upheld the ban in 1991 and directed the Devaswom Board to implement it.
The petition contended that discrimination in matters of entry into temples was neither a ritual nor ceremony associated with the Hindu religion. Such discrimination was totally anti-Hindu. The religious denomination could only restrict entry into the sanctum sanctorum and could not ban entry into the temple, discriminating on the basis of sex.