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Posted at: Oct 13, 2017, 11:17 AM; last updated: Oct 13, 2017, 10:24 PM (IST)

SC sends Sabarimala Temple entry ban issue to Constitution Bench

SC sends Sabarimala Temple entry ban issue to Constitution Bench
The three-judge bench was headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 13

The Supreme Court on Friday referred the issue of entry of women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala to a Constitution Bench.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said it involved important questions of law, religion and custom that should be decided by the Constitution Bench.

The important issues to be considered and decided by the Constitution Bench included if the entry ban amounted to discrimination; if it was essential to manage the administration of the shrine and if Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Religious Worship Act was ultra vires of the Constitution.

The Bench had on February 20 reserved its verdict on the issue of referring the case to a Constitution Bench.

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The Sabarimala Temple counsel had told the court that there were several conflicting verdicts on Article 25 (right to religion) and Article 26 (a religious denomination’s right), which needed to be reconciled and given a harmonious construction.

Senior counsel KK Venugopal, who represented the temple before becoming the Attorney General, had said a plain reading of Articles 25 and 26 made it clear that religious denominations had a superior right under the Constitution as unlike citizens’ right to religion a religious denomination’s right was not subject to other fundamental rights.

Venogopal had told the court that it was a question of religious diversity and mentioned the name of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Kerala where men are not allowed. He sought to emphasise that there was no blanket ban on women.

Venugopal’s submission had been opposed by senior counsel Indira Jaising, who said any right of a religious denomination had to be subject to right to equality.

The top court is seized of a public interest petition against the age-old tradition of keeping women of menstruating age (10-50 years) out of the famous Sabarimala Ayyappa temple—one of the holiest Hindu shrines—situated on a hilltop in Kerala.

The tradition is rooted in the belief that the deity is a celibate (Naisthik Brahmachari).

The Kerala Government and the Travancore Devaswam Board that manages the temple had supported the ban. But the Kerala Government later changed its stand and supported the petitioner.

The petitioner has contended that the ban violated women’s right to practise religion that included right of entry and worship.

The SC had allowed intervention applications filed by over a dozen individuals and organisations, including Rajya Sabha MP Rajiv Chandrashekar, who wanted to be heard in the matter.

They submitted that the court’s ruling in the Sabarimala case would have a bearing on all religious denominations across India, and therefore, it was important for the court to hear it in detail.

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