The Constitution Bench in the Supreme Court comprising of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice Rohinton Nariman, Justice Khanwilkar, Justice Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra praised the counsel for ‘People for Dharma’ and NGO ‘Chetna’. The bench praised advocate Sai Deepak for his spirited defense of the practice of banning entry of women in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Advocate Sai Deepak is defending the aforementioned organizations in the case which seeks to lift the ban on entry of women in the age group of 10-50 into the Sabarimala temple. The over 800 year old temple is facing a case by women organizations who are seeking to gain entry into the temple. Advocate Sai Deepak was originally granted 10-15 minutes by the SC bench to put forth his submissions, but he went on to speak for more than one and a half hours without being asked to stop by the judges overhearing the case. He was also quick to respond on the queries put forth by the bench regarding his defense. His argument was that it was the “constitutional right” of Lord Ayappa, the presiding deity of the Sabarimala temple, to remain celibate under Articles 21 (right to life and personal liberty) and 25(1) (freedom of religion) of the Constitution.
Advocate Sai Deepak also contended that there was enough evidence from both sides on the existence of the custom that women in the 10-50 year age group cannot enter the temple owing to the character of the deity. He also explained that menstruation is not at all a problem in this case as it is not regarded as impure. He went on to cite the worship of Kamakhya temple in Assam where the deity is revered as the “bleeding goddess”. Senior advocate Kailasanatha Pillai, representing ‘Ayyappa Seva Sangham’ too opposed the plea and said he did not want unnecessary spotlight on the temple and its practices, he also added that SC tinkering with the practice of the Sabarimala temple could lead to a public uproar in Kerala. He said, “Your lordships have to be very circumspect when exercising judicial review in matters of faith”.
The Constitution bench headed by the CJI Dipak Misra praised the persuasive and defence submission put forth by advocate Sai Deepak as “impressive”. He was lauded by the SC bench for portraying Lord Ayyapa as a “juristic person” who has the right to preserve his “brahmacharya” (celibacy).
The Bench however went on to add that it was concerned about women not being allowed entry into the temple owing to menstruation. The bench said, “But, the court can’t be oblivious of the fact of the case that a class of women is disallowed due to physiological reasons (menstruation)”, The SC bench also asked whether the practice of not allowing women belonging to a specific age group entry into the temple was an “essential and integral” practice of a religious denomination.
The plea seeking lifting of the ban on the entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala was filed by Naushad Ahmed Khan, President of Indian Young Lawyers’ Association (IYLA). Later on, some other organizations filed public interest litigations (PILs) seeking to lift the ages old practice.
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