The Left Democratic Front government in Kerala junked its Congress predecessor’s stand favouring restriction on women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple and declared on Monday that its doors should be thrown open to women of all ages.
The latest turn of events caused consternation in the camp of the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the famed temple. The hearing before a three-judge Bench, led by Justice Dipak Misra, saw the temple authority challenge the government in the Supreme Court, arguing that the government cannot alter its stand to suit its convenience. Justices R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan were the other judges.
This is the second time in a year the State has changed its position on allowing devotees aged 10-50 to enter Sabarimala. On February 4, 2016, the then United Democratic Front government had declared that the restriction had been in place from “time immemorial” and was a part of the temple’s “unique idol concept.” It reasoned that since the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, was a celibate or ‘Naisthik Brahmachari,’ even the “slightest deviation” caused by the presence of young women on the temple premises was undesirable.
The State’s February 2016 stand had directly contradicted a November 2007 position it took when the LDF government was in power. The LDF government had then filed an affidavit stating that “it is not fair to deny a section of women entry into Sabarimala.” That affidavit had questioned the rituals, customs and observances followed in the temple.
“So what is your stand now? Are you still holding that women of a certain age have no right of entry?” Justice Misra asked Kerala government counsel and senior advocate Jaydeep Gupta.
“We are not relying on the February 2016 affidavit any more. We are going by the original affidavit of November 2007,” Mr. Gupta responded.
“So that means the State government supports women of any age entering the temple?” Justice Misra persisted.
“Our stand is that women of all ages should, and I say should, be allowed to enter the temple and worship. There should be no bar,” said Mr. Gupta emphatically.
With this, Kerala has signalled its return to side of women fighting for equal right to worship at the temple.
Next hearing on Feb. 20
Vehemently opposing the government’s changing colours, the Devaswom Board’s counsel and senior advocate K.K. Venugopal said a State, having once recorded its position in an affidavit, cannot change its stand.
Justice Misra, scheduling the next hearing for February 20, said this point would be heard then on merits and in detail.
Appearing for Rahul Easwar, president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena, advocate V.K. Biju submitted that the government cannot “ignore” the February 2016 stand.
Senior advocate K. Radhakrishnan, for the royal family of the erstwhile Pandala kingdom that is believed to be the foster family of Lord Ayyappa, said public faith in the customs and legends of the Sabarmiala temple was “deep-rooted” and a decision should be taken only after hearing the sentiments of the devotees and the royal family.