In a recent judgement, the Supreme Court of India had in a 4-1 majority judgement decided to remove the ban on entry of women aged 10 – 50 into the famed Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala in South India.
The case had generated a lot of interest – during the hearings as well as post judgement – all around the world. It is indeed a significant judgement since, with the stroke of their pens, four judges reversed a practice that has been going on at the temple since time immemorial.
Justice Indu Malhotra has firmly concluded that the said writ petition “does not deserve to be entertained and the grievances raised are non-justiciable.
The four judges have averred that the practice “significantly denudes women of their right to worship”. Justice Chandrachud termed the custom as a form of “untouchability” which cannot be allowed under the Constitution of India.
Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone lady member of the bench, has attracted a lot of attention and admiration. As a member of this five-judge bench, she wrote her dissenting judgement. She has provided some profound reasoning for her dissent that certainly deserves examination. Former Supreme Court of India judge MarkandeyKatju has complimented her for “the balance and restraint required of a judge of a superior court”.
Judge Malhotra has pointed out that that “the petitioners were not directly affected and were not devotees” themselves and hence she found it “odd that the court was deciding on the entry of women into the temple at the behest of persons who do not subscribe to this faith”. This is an important observation and has not missed the attention of millions of Hindus in the country.
She has further strongly argued for “heterogeneity in religion that allows diverse forms of worship, even if it were irrational”. Very pointedly she states that “in a secular polity, issues which are matters of deep religious faith and sentiment, must not ordinarily be interfered with by courts.”
Continuing her telling observations, Malhotra has said that permitting such public interest litigations (PILs) “in religious matters would open the floodgates to interlopers who are not followers of that faith, to question its beliefs and practices” since it would be a matter of grave concern, especially for minority communities. She has firmly concluded that the said writ petition “does not deserve to be entertained and the grievances raised are non-justiciable”.
The Supreme Court has opened the possibility of internecine litigations between religious faiths where one practitioner is now free to question and seek the quashing of practices of another religion.
But the majority of judges thought otherwise. Their reasoning for the majority judgement seems to be a reiteration that the practice of forbidding women in the said age group was “a form of untouchability which cannot be allowed under the Constitution.” But many legal experts have already argued that this case cannot be viewed through the limited vision lens of gender equality and a broader view of Hindu religious practices was imperative in judging the case.
It is not that these points of law were not brought before the court during the hearings. In fact, J Sai Deepak, who appeared before the Supreme Court in this case on behalf of the intervener organization People for Dharma, too had presented succinct arguments. For example, he had argued that “Lord Ayyappa has rights under articles 21, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India, and his right to remain a naisthika bramhachari- or a perpetual celibate – falls under Article 25 and hence, women’s entry to the temple should continue to be restricted”.
Thus, restricting entry of women into the abode of a Lord who is a naisthika bramhachari- or a perpetual celibate – may not tantamount to gender inequality or discrimination against women, when viewed through a broader lens. Be as it may, the other four judges, in their wisdom have obviously not been convinced by these arguments and hence their opinions have prevailed and the judgement is there for all to see.
The impact of the judgement is expected to be felt far and wide. From breaking its own restraint in not entering into the domain of religious beliefs and practices that are not pernicious, the Supreme Court has opened the possibility of internecine litigations between religious faiths where one practitioner is now free to question and seek the quashing of practices of another religion. The outcome could be a judicial nightmare which could easily lead to bloodshed on the streets.
Many Ayyappa Sangams – groups or forums of Ayyappa devotees – do expect the usual suspects – activist women who have a track record of protesting against Hindu practices – to visit the temple.
In multiple discussions I had with Hindu women, particularly millennials in Tamil Nadu, I got a sense of their disbelief. Many did say that they were suspicious of the motives of the petitioners since they themselves would never have approached the courts on such a matter. Many felt violated since Hindu women had traditionally revered the practice of naisthika bramhacharya vratam of Lord Ayyappa. They pointed out that the unprecedented heavy rains and consequent damage to life and property in Kerala as a sign of Lord Ayyappa’s anger.
Plural societies like India have diverse groups and interest and by definition have differing identities and belief systems which have to be celebrated. But they also have large and vulnerable underbellies that have to carefully nurtured and protected, not exploited. But in India, we seem to be witnessing the opposite.
But if the average Hindu, particularly the women, feel outraged, they cannot be faulted for, here is a judgement that nullifies a centuries-old practice that they did not ask for. The certainly avoidable outcome is that a growing number of reasonable Indians now think that the judiciary appears to have abandoned all shreds of caution and sensitivity when treading on matters of religious faith, however irrational they may appear.
Over the ages, Hindu social memory has been burdened with a lot of baggage – from flawed to gross miscarriages of justice – more than what many other social systems have experienced. But they have been absorbed and digested in the sands of time. So too this will be.
Despite the judgement, out of reverence for Lord Ayyappa, Hindu women have not come forward to visit the temple. And they are steadfast in their resolve. Nonetheless, many Ayyappa Sangams – groups or forums of Ayyappa devotees – do expect the usual suspects – activist women who have a track record of protesting against Hindu practices – to visit the temple. But like always, most of them will be a flash in the pan.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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So according to you this is like triple talak ? Makes no sense. By not going to Sabarimalai no woman is going to lose her life & children, that too suckling babies. Doesn’t make sense at all.
100% True. Overhaul of Judiciary and Finance / Enforcement and investigating agencies Is Long Overdue.
Time and again, when Swamy is questioned for his loci standi in many legal matters in courts, how come this was left to pass?
Will the current government that rushed to protect SC/ST act , do something?
I disagree with Mr.K K Vasudeva.1. woman of all ages is allowed in all Ayyappa temples except the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple where according to Hindu faith,lord is believed to be in naishtika brmacharya vryth, and devotees are supposed to visit only twice in a year after taking 41 days vryth..when the flow of devotees increased, the greedy dewaswam board saw the opportunity to make more money and allowed devotees on the first day of every Malayalam calender month. Earlier ,only the chief priest go there on 30th of every month and stay there for a day so that he can complete the pooja for two months in one trekking. So technically there is no ban on female to visit lord Ayyappa.
2.About tripple talaq, the issue is between two individuals . where one party looses all her rights by tripple talaq.here the court must interfere.
This was the verdict of the Supreme court. What has been the role of the Government in this case?
It was they who instigated it thinking that women in KErala will fall head over heels to vote for the BJP in 2019. Su Swamy & Maneka Gandhi hailed the decision immediately & called it a victory for women which the Keralite women do not seem to agree now.
NO COURT IN INDIA SHOULD HAVE TAKEN UP THE CASE AT ALL, LET ALONE SPEND ITS VALUABLE TIME, PUBLIC ATTENTION AND MONEY, ANY MY TIME (READING EVERYTHING, FOLLOWING, AND THIS WRITING) – THE CJI AND THE WRONG-DOING JUDGES SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR WASTING PUBLIC, TAX PAYERS’ MONEY AND SEVERELY PUNISHED !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THE COURTS HAVE MUCH MORE IMPORTANT CASES, POLITICAL, CORRUPTION, CRIMINAL (MURDER CRIME, RAPE CRIME AND MUCH MORE) TO TAKE UP AND DECIDE – BUT THEY POSTPONE THOSE CASES INDEFINITELY AND REJOICE IN TAKING UP CASES LIKE THESE, AND EVEN PASS JUDGEMENTS APPEASING THE MEDIA, AND HANDFUL OF POLITICIANS AND VESTED INTERESTS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TOO BAD AND PATHETIC SITUATION FOR OUR COUNTRY. I DON’T KNOW WHERE THE COUNRTY IS HEADING TO WITH SUCH KIND OF JUDGES IN THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE COUNTRY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THE COURTS-JUDICIARY HAS BECOME TOYS OF GREEDY, CORRUPT POLITICIANS AND GREEDY, FILTHY-RICH LAWYERS, THEY ALL PLAY INTO THE LIVES OF COMMON MAN, WASTING LAKHS OF CRORES OF PUBLIC MONEY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CRUCIAL JUDGEMENTS SHOULD NOT BE GUIDED BY CROOKED MEDIA-CRIES – FOR EG: TAKING UP 5 ACTIVISTS CASE AND HASTILY ACTING ON THAT –
SUCH PRACTICES SHOULD STOP IMMEDIATELY. TOTAL REVAMPING AND RECONSTRUCTING OUR JUDICIARY SHOULD BE TAKEN UP AND DONE ON TOP MOST PRIORITY BASIS, ENSURING DELIVERY OF FINAL JUDGEMENT IN TOP PRIORITY CASES OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE – ANYBODY CAN FILE A PIL AND THE JUDICIARY SAVOURING, ENJOYING AND REJOICING IN SUCH CASES, HEARING ARGUMENTS AND COUNTEER ARGUMENTS – LAWYERS GET THEIR FEES FROM SOMEWHERE – AND TAX PAYERS’ MONEY IS WASTED – JUDGEMENTS – WRONG JUDGEMENTS – APPEALS – MORE MONEY TO LAWYERS – WHAT IS GOING ON IN OUR COUNTRY ?????????????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
100% True. Overhaul of Judiciary and Finance / Enforcement and investigating agencies Is Long Overdue.
No Govt will do it. They want every institution to be under their control.
God Ayyappa is sitting there in the middle of the jungle … It’s like meditation of a saint who just opens up his eyes only to bless those who have took pains to take up viratham and come to see him.
After this he continues his meditation…
Ma Sita was there in Ashoka vanam thinking about Rama and that is also penance. Most of the ashrams don’t allow women inside.
So being a brahmachari Ayyappa has some rules set up for visiting him and it should be respected.
I have heard even late Kanchi mahaswami refused to meet Indira Gandhi.
If such rules are there for brahmacharyam of a human being why is not followed for a god.
Hindus were pretty apathetic when Kanchipuram Shankaracharya was mistreated. They will eventually forget this judgment too.
The performance and the priorities of this government give us a clear picture of what to expect. That is not very encouraging.
Finally, could you please do an article comparing this issue with jalikattu?
The verdict is contempt of Lord Iyappa, hence the judges can be criticized freely . If the verdict based on gender equality and discrimination as per article 14 & 15 the same can be applied to religion based minority a fraud being in force in India for 3 decades.
When it is possible to subject the highest authority CJI to impeachment, can the judgements not be overtuned?
Hindu beliefs and traditions must be respected.
I am a Hindu and do not agree with your statement: “the judiciary appears to have abandoned all shreds of caution and sensitivity when treading on matters of religious faith, however irrational they may appear”, for the simple reason that becomes more obvious when say applied to the triple talaq. Triple Talaq is irrational and abusive towards women. If we apply your logic, then the Supreme Court should not have intervened into that matter.
This is not the kind of “Status Quoist” society we should strive for. Even as Hindus we need a progressive society that strives for a “Uniform Civil Code”, even if it means some amount of reforms of all religions, including some practises of us Hindus.