Sabarimala verdict opens new avenues for protection of customs, say lawyers for review petitioners

New Delhi: Lawyers who appeared on behalf of review petitioners in the Sabarimala case have called the Supreme Court's decision on Thursday to refer the matter to a larger bench as "absolutely right" and said it would open new avenues for the litigants who argued for protection and preservation of customs.

In a 3:2 majority verdict, the apex court referred to a larger seven-judge bench the pleas seeking review of its historic 2018 judgement allowing women and girls of all ages to enter Kerala's Sabarimala temple, set to open on November 17, along with other contentious issues of alleged discrimination against Muslim and Parsi women.

Senior advocate Kailashnath Pillai, who had appeared for Akhil Bhartiya Malayali Sangh, among other review petitioners, said rather than leaving the matter to the government, the court should appoint a committee to collect empirical data and then decide the matter.

"It is a larger question of law, question of faith. Under the constitution, can faith be subjected to judicial review is the larger question," Pillai said.

Advocate Abhilash M R, who appeared for review petitioner Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti, an organisation for protection of customs of the hilltop shrine, said the judgment was completely unexpected but in favour of what the litigants stood for.

"The order was something completely unexpected and in favour of the cause for which we stood. Most importantly, the seven-judge bench may hear the parties afresh. We are likely to get a rehearing," Abhilash said.

However, advocate Prashant Padmanabhan, lawyer for Bindu Ammini and Kanakadurga, the two women who had entered the Sabarimala temple, said the fight against discrimination has never been easy.

"I am bewildered at the CJI reference order in Sabarimala review petitions today. Many legal issues which are pending consideration before various other benches are mentioned in today's order and some academic questions are framed.

"The fight against discrimination has never been easy. I wish and hope that the views of Justices Nariman and Chandrachud will be upheld in the larger Bench," Padmanabhan said.

Advocate V K Biju, who had appeared for the Sabarimala Custom Protection Forum, said that religious practice, beliefs and rituals in Sabarimala cannot be separated and is a part and parcel of religious freedom.

"The Supreme Court's judgment is absolutely right. In a secular country, a secular court cannot directly, deeply interfere in religious practices, faith, belief, and rituals and the Preamble of Constitution clearly gives that liberty of worship," Biju said.

Petitioner advocate Usha Nandini said she was confident of the Supreme Court reconsidering the matter because the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (authorisation of entry) Rules, 1965, the rule 3 of which was struck down by Justice R F Nariman in the September 28, 2018 verdict, did not apply to Sabarimala.

Justice R F Nariman, in the last year verdict had struck down Rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (authorisation of entry) Rules, 1965.

The majority verdict kept the review pleas pending for a seven-judge bench and did not stay its September 2018 majority judgement, girls and women of all age groups will be entitled to undertake the pilgrimage to the shrine. PTI

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