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Women lawyers challenge ban on entry into Sabarimala temple

Special Correspondent

Discrimination is totally anti-Hindu, says petition in Supreme Court

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Kerala Government and the Travancore Devaswom Board on a petition seeking a direction to allow entry of women into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple without age restriction. At present women in the age group 10-50 are not allowed entry.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice C.K. Thakker issued the notice on the petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association and five other women lawyers challenging the ban in force for several years. It also issued notice to the Sabarimala chief tantri and the Pathanamthitta District Magistrate.

The petitioners said women, aged between 10 and 50, touching the idol was considered an act of desecration. An attempt was made to prosecute Kannada actor Jaimala on the plea of desecration following her disclosure that she entered the sanctum sanctorum and touched the idol in 1987. The priests conducted a special ritual to purify the idol.

The petitioners pointed out that the ban was being 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). The Kerala High Court upheld the ban and directed the Devaswom Board to implement it.

The petitioners contended that discrimination in matters of entry into temples was neither a ritual nor ceremony associated with 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, making a discrimination on the basis of sex.

The petitioners sought quashing of the Rule contending that the ban was violative of Articles 14 (equality before law), 25 and 26 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution. They wanted guidelines laid down in matters of gender inequality in religious practices at places of worship.

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