Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde on Thursday orally remarked that a September 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court allowing menstruating women to worship at the Sabarimala temple may, at the moment, not be the “last word” as the issue has been referred to a larger Bench of seven judges.
On November 14 last, a Constitution Bench of five judges, sitting in review of the September 2018 verdict, in a majority judgment, did not specifically decide the issue of entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years into the temple. The majority view was silent on the legality of women’s entry into the temple. Instead, it framed larger questions on the debate of ‘women’s equal right to worship versus the right to faith and customs’ and referred them to a seven-judge Bench. The majority judgment also did not specifically stay the September 2018 verdict.
On Thursday, Kerala-based Bindu Ammini, who is aged below 50, urged the court to direct the police to provide her protection to visit the temple. Represented by senior advocate Indira Jaising and advocate Prashant Padmanabhan, she said she was attacked by certain individuals for attempting to undertake the pilgrimage.
Ms. Jaising said the police had washed their hands of her client and refused protection. Her client was well within her rights to visit the temple on the strength of the September 2018 judgment.
“But that is not the last word. It has been referred to a larger Bench,” the CJI responded.
Ms. Jaising said the September 2018 judgment was the decision of a Constitution Bench, and it was indeed the final word in the issue. She asked the CJI to list her plea on an early date as the temple would soon close. “This is not a temple that is open all through the year,” she submitted.
The CJI, who initially agreed to post the plea after the winter vacations, finally acquiesced to hear it along with a similar petition filed by Rehana Fathima, who has also sought police protection for her proposed visit to the temple.
Ms. Fathima’s plea is likely to be listed next week. Ms. Bindu’s application may also come up for hearing all along with it.
Ms. Bindu has accused the Kerala government of giving a “free hand” to unlawful elements to harass and attack women aged between 10 and 50 years en route to worship at the temple. She noted that the 2018 judgment had not been stayed in review and Kerala was acting in gross contempt of the court’s decision to allow entry to women of menstruating age. She asked the court to direct Kerala to “respect, fulfil and protect the rights of all women regardless of age to enter the Sabarimala temple without hindrance in any manner whatsoever and, in particular, by preventing the unruly mobs or individuals from obstructing them from entering the temple”.