New Delhi: The Travancore Devaswom Board on Thursday defended the ban on the entry of females in the age group of 10 to 55 years to the famed Sabarimala temple in Kerala but insisted that it was not a discriminatory practice.
The origin of the system was “not discriminatory but based on a belief which is bonafide” and it was linked to the “purity” of the Lord Ayyappa idol, “not that of women”, a Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was told.
“You have to see the practice in the context of a particular denominational temple,” senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court, adding that in thousands of other temples too, women were not let in during their menstruating period.
The Devaswom Board manages the Sabarimala temple that attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.
“Sabarimala is a temple of great antiquity dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, a deity depicting a hyper masculine God born of the union of two male Gods, Shiva and Mohini, where Mohini is Vishnu in a female form,” the Devaswom Board said in an affidavit.
Describing Sabarimala temple as one of its kind in the world, Singhvi told the bench also comprising Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra that there were 999 other Ayyappa temples. So why insist on coming to Sabarimala alone?
“Because they believe it” and “it is their choice”, Chief Justice Misra said. “When you say that you can’t come, then you have to give some justification for such prohibition.”
Justice Nariman said: “There is no rational connection with the object sought to be achieved.”
On Thursday, the Kerala government reiterated its earlier stand that it favoured the entry of all women of irrespective of their age into Sabarimala temple.
Describing it a lifetime ban, senior counsel Jaideep Gupta, appearing for Kerala, said nobody can guarantee that a person will live beyond 55 years of age — to be in a position to visit the Sabarimala temple if one was a woman.
However, it opposed the plea by the petitioner Indian Young Lawyers Association that Article 17 (Abolition of Untouchability) should be interpreted to include women prohibited from entering Sabarimala temple.
The Constitution bench is hearing an October 13, 2017 reference by a three-judge bench which had framed four questions to be addressed by it.
The four questions include whether excluding women (in age group of 10-50 years) constitutes an “essential religious practice” and “whether a religious institution can assert a claim in that regard under the umbrella of right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion?”
Besides, the court is examining whether the Ayyappa Temple has a denominational character and if it was permissible for a religious denomination managed by a statutory board and funded by the Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments to indulge in practices violative of the Constitutional principles.
Singhvi will resume his arguments on July 24.