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Case Brief: INDIAN YOUNG LAWYER ASSOCIATION & ORS. VS. STATE OF KERALA & ORS.

INDIAN YOUNG LAWYER ASSOCIATION & ORS. VS. STATE OF KERALA & ORS.

Citation: 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1690

Introduction

The case was filed in 2006 by the Indian Young Lawyer’s Association through public interest litigation (PIL) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The case deals with an important aspect i.e. “Entry of Women in Sabarimala Temple”. There were many issues raised in which it was argued by petitioners that provisions related to the restriction of the women entry in Temple are unconstitutional as it violates Article 14, Article 15, Article 17, Article 25, Article 26 of the Indian Constitution. The Sabarimala Temple is situated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the western ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. This temple is famous for Lord Ayyappa. It forbids the entry of women in their menstruating age that are between the age of 10 to 50 years stated that it is a place of worship.


Background

The Sabarimala Temple is one of the most well known pilgrimages place of Hindus. The Sabarimala shrine, which is one of the most famous temples in Kerala, had restricted women of menstruating age from entry. Several women tried to enter the temple but could not because of threats of physical assault against them. In 1991, A group of five women lawyers had moved to the Apex Court challenging the decision of the Kerala High Court. The Court gave Judgment in favor of the prohibitory and said that these restrictions are not discrimination to the constitution. In 2006, the ban was opposed by the Young Lawyer’s Association appealing that rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu places of public worship (Authorization of entry) rules, 1965 states that “women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship”. Later in 2008, the PIL was heard by a constitutional bench including “the Former Chief Justice on India” Dipak Mishra.


Petitioner (s): Indian Young Lawyer Association; Dr. Laxmi Shastri; Prerna Kumari; Alka Sharma; Sudha Pal.


Respondent (s): The State of Kerala; Travancore Devaswom Board; chief Tanthri of Sabarmial Temple; District Magistrate of Pathanamthitta; Nair Service Society; Akhil Bhartiya Ayyapa Seva Sangham; Ayyappa Seva Samithi; Ayyappa Pooja Samithi; Kerala Kshetra Samarak Shana Samithi; Pandalam Kottaram Nirvahaka Sangham; Sabarimala custom Protection Forum.


Petitioner’s Lawyers: R.P Gupta; Raja Ramachandran; K.Ramamoorthy.


Respondent’s Lawyers: Jaideep Gupta; Liz Mathew; Venugopal; V.Giri; State of Kerala; Rakesh Dwivedi; K. Radhakrishanan.


In this case there were 5 Judges constitutional bench including Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra, Justice A. M khanwilkar, Justice R F Nariman, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra.


Issues before the court

• Whether the exclusionary practice which is based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to “discrimination” and thereby violets the very core of Article 14, Article 15 and Article 17 and protected by “morality” as used in Article 25 and Article 26[6] of the constitution.

• Whether this restriction violates the provisions of Kerala Hindu Place of Public Worship Act, 1965?

• Whether the Sabarimala Temple has a denominational character?

• Whether rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu places of public worship (Authorization of entry) rules permits ‘religious denomination’ to ban entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 years?


Arguments by the Parties on Issues:


(Arguments in favor of women entry)

The arguments given in the favor of women entry by the petitioners were menstruation is not impure, and that women should have equal rights to enter in the Sabarimala Temple. In our society, since ages women had to struggle or fight for their equal position at public platforms. It is not about the representation, but is also about the ideological fight with the rules and customs in patriarchal society according to which women remain subordinates. This case has been fight against the patriarchal philosophy of the religious order which prohibits the entry of women into the temple. The case provided the Supreme Court with a chance to balance the gap between constitutional ideals and social reality.

[1] Article 14 in the constitution of India 1949:

Equality before law the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

[2] Article 25 Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion:

All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.

[3] Article 15: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth:

The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion race, caste, sex, and place of birth. No citizen shall, on grounds only of religious, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment.

[4] Article 17: Abolition of Untouchability:

Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

[5] Article 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right.

The provision in Kerala Hindu Place of Public Worship Act, 1956 which support restriction to women’s entry in the temple is unconstitutional as it violets Article 14,15,25 and 26 of Indian Constitution. One of the arguments from the side of the petitioner that Lord Ayyappa temple was not separate religious practices performed in Sabarimala Temple at the time of Puja and other religious ceremonies are not different from other religious practices performed in other Hindu temples.


(Argument against women entry)

The arguments given against women entry by Respondent such religious practices are not as old as it is a tradition to respect god/goddess of Temple. Men are also restricted to entry and worship in several temples, for example, Bramha temple, Pushkar.

There is no violation of Article 15, 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution as the restriction is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class. The provisions in Kerala Hindu Place of Public Worship Act, 1965 also support this restriction.


Judgment:

Ratio Decidendi: Ratio Decidendi is the rule of law on which judicial decision is based. It is legally binding.

On 28th September 2018, the court delivered its verdict in this case by 4:1 majority which held that the practice violated the fundamental rights to equality, liberty and freedom of religion, Article 14, 15, 19(1), 21 and 25(1). It struck down Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act as unconstitutional. Rule 3(b) allowed for Hindu denominations to exclude women from public places of worship, if the exclusion was based on custom.

The apex court has allowed entry of women of all age groups to the Sabarimala Temple, and held that “Devotion cannot be subjected to Gender Discrimination”.

Obiter Dictum: Obiter Dictum is a judge’s expression of opinion uttered in court or in written judgment, but not essential to the decision and therefore not legally binding as a precedent. In this case, the court ruled thus:

• “We have no doubt in saying that such practices infringe the right of women to enter a temple and freely practice Hindu religion”.

• “Devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination”.

Hon’ble Chief Justice of India stated in his judgment that religion is way of life linked to the dignity of an individual and patriarchal practices based on the exclusion of one gender in favor of another could not be allowed to infringe upon the fundamental freedom to practice and profess one’s religion.

The Apex court has declared that the practice of restricting women of a specific age group in their ‘ menstruating years’ from Sabarimala Temple is unconstitutional.

Current status of case: There are review petitions filed challenging the judgment pending.


Conclusion:

Freedoms related to religious are essential elements for the functioning of democracy in a country like India. As we know, constitutional ideals and social reality are very different as much as possible for the smooth and proper functioning of society. In the case of ‘Indian Young Lawyers Association vs. State of Kerala & ors.’, Apex court has tried to bridge the gap between constitutional ideals and social reality.


Authored and Briefed By: Sonali Sharma

Student, B.A.,LL.B., 4th Year (FIMT school of Law, GGSIPU)

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CIN No: U74999DL2016PLC302708

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