Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors vs. The State of Kerala & Ors. (Sabarimala temple case) (Writ Petition (Civil) No 373 of 2006)
Facts of the case
- Sabarimala shrine is a Hindu temple which is considered to be an abode of lord Ayyappa. It is situated in the state of Kerala inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve.
- Sabarimala shrine had restricted women who are of mensurating age from entering the temple premises.
- Several women who have attempted to enter the premises of the temple have been subjected to threats of physical assaults.
- Time and again such an exclusion have been challenged before the courts, in 1991 in Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore, the high court of Kerala declared that such an exclusion is constitutional due to the prevalence of long standing customs
- Therefore, a PIL has been filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association contending the earlier decision of the Kerala high court to uphold the customs followed by the temple to exclude women from entering the temple.
Issues raised before the court
- Whether the rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules authorise the board a ‘religious denomination’ to sanction a ban upon entry of certain women (who are within the age of 10 to 50)?
- Most importantly does such an authority is in violation of constitutional provisions mentioned under article 14 and 15?
- Whether such an exclusion constitutes to be included under the ‘essential religious practice provided for under the article 25 of the Indian constitution?
- Can a denominational character be attested to the Sabarimala shrine?
The bench hearing the case constituted of Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, Justice R F Nariman, Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice D Y Chandrachud, and Justice Indu Malhotra. While hearing the case the judges made certain important observations that “We have no doubt in saying that such practice infringes the right of women to enter a temple and freely practice Hindu religion”, most importantly the court emphasised on the fact that “Devotion cannot be subjected to Gender Discrimination”. Hearing upon the matter, the constitutional bench decided with a 4:1 ratio that exclusion of the women from entering the holy shrine is in violation of the fundamental rights and is unconstitutional.
In the judgement, the court highlighted that customs which prohibit the entry of the women who are between the age of 10 to 50 years into the holy shrine accounts to violation of article 25(1) as well as the rule 3 of the aforementioned Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965, is violation of the constitutional provisions mentioned under article 15(1) and 25(1).
CJ Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar, J., further state that the rule 3 mentioned above is violative of the provisions mentioned under section 3 and 4 of the of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965, which states that the customs should make space by respecting the rights of all classes or the sections within the purview of the term “Hindu” therefore, women constitute a part of these sections and communities. Consequently, the lord Ayyppa devotees cannot be considered a distinct and separate religious denomination they are considered hindus. The court further ruled that “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion” is available to all subjected to certain exemptions and restrictions. However, the exemptions mentioned under article 25 do not exclude women from its purview. Therefore, exclusion of women can amount to violation of Article 25(1) of the constitution as it hampers their rights to freely practice their religion. Most importantly the decision of the respondent board to exclude women from entering the Sabarimala temple cannot be considered to be an “essential part” of a religious practice.
Indu Malhotra is the only women who delivered a dissenting judgement in this case, citing that “Sabarimala temple where Lord Ayyappa is believed to have manifested himself as a Naishtik Brahmachari“. Therefore, it should be considered as an inherent part of the “essential religious practices” mentioned under the article 25(1). She further added that “Hindu deities have both physical/temporal and philosophical form. The same deity is capable of having different physical and spiritual forms or manifestations. Worship of each of these forms is unique, and not all forms are worshipped by all persons.”