Sabarimala review hearing awaits Justice Malhotra's return

Supreme Court to wait till Justice Indu Malhotra returns from leave

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:34 am IST

Published - January 22, 2019 03:25 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Supreme Court of India, in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court of India, in New Delhi.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Tuesday told petitioners seeking a review of the court’s September 28 judgment revoking the bar on women of menstrual age from entering the Sabarimala temple that a date for hearing their petitions would be fixed after consulting Justice Indu Malhotra, a member of the Bench who is now on medical leave.

A five-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice, which was earlier scheduled to hear the review petitions on Tuesday, did not assemble as Justice Malhotra was on leave.

Oral mention

Responding to an oral mention by advocate Mathew Nedumpara to fix a date for hearing, Justice Gogoi said that would not be possible until Justice Malhotra returns after leave, possibly on January 30.


“We will have to ask the learned judge, who is on medical leave,” the Chief Justice said, addressing Mr. Nedumpara, who represents one of the several review petitioners. “We cannot ascertain a date without asking her [Justice Malhotra],” he added.

Justice Malhotra had delivered the lone dissent in the five-judge Constitution Bench’s majority judgment on September 28. The judgment had declared the exclusion, based solely on the menstrual status of women, a smear on individual dignity. It said the bar amounted to “treating women as the children of a lesser God.”

Justice Malhotra had declared the prohibition on women aged between 10 and 50 an “essential practice.” The judge had held that imposing the court’s morality on a religion would negate the freedom to practise religion according to one’s faith and beliefs. The dissenting judgment has since then become a rallying point for the review petitioners.

Review petitions were filed by a range of persons, from the Sabarimala temple’s chief priest to individuals and Ayyappa organisations, including women devotees’ bodies. They contend that ‘reform’ cannot mean rendering a religious practice out of existence on the basis of a PIL petition filed by “third parties” lacking belief in the Sabarimala deity.

Justice Malhotra’s rationale that courts should not allow “interlopers” to file PIL petitions challenging religious practices is a common thread in the review petitions.

The review petitioners have argued that the right to move the Supreme Court for violation of fundamental rights must be reserved for those whose personal rights to worship have been violated. Entertaining PIL petitions on religious practices by third parties may invite “perils even graver for religious minorities,” some of them contend.

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