A religious custom or discrimination?
Debates have erupted with the Supreme Court posing questions over the age-old tradition of banning entry of women of menstrual age group into historic Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala.
Such a restriction cannot be implemented under the Constitution, a bench comprising Judges Dipak Misra, Pinaki Chandra Ghose and N.V. Ramana said while hearing a petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association challenging the temple's custom of prohibiting the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years.
The court had observed that a "temple can't prohibit entry except on the basis of religion. Unless you have a constitutional right, you can't prohibit the entry". The Court also directed the petitioner to submitted an affidavit, in which the stand of the state government on allowing women in the age group of 10-50 to enter Sabarimala temple, will be mentioned. The next hearing has been scheduled for February 8.
The ruling immediately divided the faithful into two camps -- those who want to retain the present system and those who want that women of all age groups should be allowed entry into the Sabarimala temple.
"Even though god does not differentiate between man and woman, as far as Sabarimala temple and its traditions are concerned, it has a well thought out process and a system," Kalidasan Namboodiripad, a tantric priest, said.
"The fulcrum of the Sabarimala pilgrimage revolves around a 41-day penance. Keeping that in mind, the question of women being able to do that cannot happen because it is not possible and practical," he added.
While CPM leader and former Devaswom minister G Sudhakaran expressed his support to the Supreme Court's observation, poet and activist Sugathakumari voiced her strong protest over the SC comment.
Govt will respect beliefs and customs: Chennithala, Sivakumar
Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said that women are not allowed to enter Sabarimala as customs do not allow this. "The government will consider the traditional customs and beliefs of the devotees before submitting the affidavit,” he said.
Devaswom Minister V.S. Sivakumar said the government would submit affidavit in the court only after considering the emotions of devotees.
“The government has to consider the ritual and customs followed in Sabarimala. It will take a final decision only after conduction discussions with the Devaswom board,” Sivakumar said.
Meanwhile, Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president Prayar Gopalakrishnan said the restriction was part of custom and tradition of the shrine and it should be continued. The board, that manages the temple, would place its stand before the apex court for the continuation of the ban on the entry of women in the age group of 10 and 50 at the temple.
Gopalakrishnan said the apex court had made the observation based on an affidavit filed during the previous rule of the LDF in 2006. He said the observation was without understanding the speciality of the rituals of the temple and Deity Lord Ayyappa, who is considered to be "perennial celibate" (Naishtika Brahmachari).
As per the belief, certain customs and traditions have to be followed while visiting the hillock shrine, he said, adding, "the Devaswom Board and state government give more importance to preserve that customs and traditions".
The Board also would implead in the case to present its stand before the Court, he said.
'Allow women into temple'
Reacting to the Supreme Court questioning the ban on entry of women to the historic Sabarimala temple, famous historian Dr M G S Narayanan told Mathrubhumi News that women who aspire to visit the temple must be given a chance to offer prayers. Denying constitutional rights does not augur well to the modernised society, he said.
"There is no religious basis in preventing women from entering temple for darshan. Equating faith with reasoning is meaningless. Women too have right like men in believing in God," MGS said.