Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala

Citation – Writ Petition (Civil) No. 373 of 2006, 2018 (8) SCJ 609

Court – Supreme Court of India

Bench – Dipak Misra, A.M. Khanwilkar, R.F. Nariman, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra

Date of Judgement – 28.09.2018

Facts of the Case

Women of menstrual age were denied entry to the Sabarimala sanctuary, one of Kerala’s most important temples. Bindu and Kanaka Durga, both in their early 40s, attempted to access the hilltop shrine around 3.45 a.m. but were denied owing to threats of physical harm.

In the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, a group of five women from the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) contesting the temple officials’ century-old restrictive practise. Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965, states that “Women who are not permitted to join a site of public worship by tradition and use shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship,” was argued to be a violation of the Indian Constitution’s basic fundamental rights.

Issues

  1. Whether this restriction imposed by the temple authorities violates Articles 15, 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution?
  2. Whether this restriction violate the provisions of the Kerala Hindu Place of Public Worship Act, 1965?
  3. Whether the Sabarimala Temple has a denominational character?

Laws

  1. Articles 15(3) of the Constitution of India
  2. Articles 14 of the Constitution of India
  3. Article 17 of the Constitution of India
  4. Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965

Arguments made by the petitioners

Senior Counsel Indira Jaising argued that the widespread social stigmas that label menstruation women as “impure” and “polluting” are both provocative and damaging. Due to the dogmas surrounding menstruation in general, preventing women from attending the temple is a type of untouchability. According to the lawyer, there is a violation of Article 17 of the Indian Constitution, which condemns and outlaws all forms of untouchability. On the question of whether the Sabarimala temple has a denominational character, the counsel argued that the religious rituals performed in the temple during ‘pujas’ and other religious rites are comparable to those performed in any other Hindu temple.

Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, who was nominated as an amicus curiae in the case, claimed that Article 25(2) (b) is a substantive right, not only an enabling provision. The above-mentioned Article grants women the right to enter the temple and give worship.

Contentions made by the Respondents

The Nair Service Society’s senior counsel, K. Parasaran, stated right away that the limits put on women were not the result of patriarchal beliefs. Instead, the practise was founded on the god Lord Ayyappan’s celibacy. Kerala has a matrilineal structure, according to the lawyer. The state’s women are noted for being well-educated and self-sufficient in their decision-making responsibilities. As a result, he maintained that the prohibition enforced on young women was the outcome of Sabarimala temple norms and usages, not misogyny. Furthermore, the defendant’s lawyer pointed out that temples are not specifically mentioned in Article 15(2) of the Indian Constitution, which grants individuals the right to access public areas.

J. Sai Deepak, who represents “People for Dharma,” a group dedicated to keeping the government and temple management apart, chastised the opposing counsel for failing to distinguish between religious diversity and prejudice. The petitioner, he argued, twisted a conversation about the deity’s celibacy into purported concepts of impurity related to menstruation.

The decision of the Court

On September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court removed the prohibition, allowing women of all ages to visit the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. The tribunal ruled with a 4:1 majority that the temple practise violates Hindu women’s rights and that prohibiting women from entering the shrine is gender discrimination.

The majority verdict reveals that the Indian Constitution’s essential principles are superior. Even in questions of religious beliefs, the Hon’ble Chief Justice and his companion judges unambiguously said that governments, religious communities, and citizens are obliged and must comply with the country’s Constitution. All other laws of the land, as well as customary customs, beliefs, and traditions of other religions, are superseded by this historic judgement.

Dissenting opinion

Justice Indu Malhotra wrote the dissenting opinion. The Justice dismissed the petition as frivolous and unworthy of consideration, arguing that courts lack jurisdiction to decide whether religious activities should be abolished unless there are issues of social ills, such as ‘Sati.’ According to Justice Malhotra, constitutional morality would allow everyone to practise their views, and the religious community would decide what constituted vital religious practise.

Indu Malhotra carefully says in her dissenting view that the decision to eliminate the prohibitions on women would have significant repercussions, amounting to undue meddling in religious emotions of many communities.

Article 25 of India’s Constitution protects both the temple and the deity, according to her claim. She believes that religious practises should not be judged exclusively on the basis of Article 14.

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