18, Jan 2016
In Sabarimala temple case, constitutional right to equality trumps other arguments
Should the 1,500 year old Sabarimala Sri Ayyappa temple be opened up to women? The temple authority, Travancore Devaswom Board, cites tradition to say no to women between the ages of 10 to 50 for its sanctum sanctorum.
The Supreme Court has rightly cited constitutional guarantees of equality to question why . “Unless you have a constitutional right to prohibit women entry ,“ remarked Justice Dipak Misra, heading a three-member apex court bench on the case, “you cannot prevent them from worshipping at the shrine“.
The case is still being heard, but it has already re-ignited old debates about legal secularism, the state and its right to intervene in religion. From political parties to traditionalists, a wide social coalition of those who oppose change is bandying around loaded accusations of “judicial misadventure“, charges of disrespect to age-old customs and warnings of adverse consequences if faith is trifled with.
Temple representatives have fielded three major arguments in favour of keeping women out. First, they argue, the deity is a `brahmacharya’ and the Constitution mandates that citizen’s beliefs should be protected. Second, they cite traditional notions of “impurity“ and “purity“ of menstruating women with the catch-all “beliefs are beliefs“ argument. “In our houses females will not enter the kitchen during those days“, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, head of the Travancore Devaswom Board, has been quoted as saying.