The Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on Thursday on 65 petitions (review pleas and writs) filed against the apex court’s 2018 verdict on Sabarimala, where the ban on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 was lifted. If the court decides that the review petitions are acceptable, then a bench may be set up to hear the case again.
The Supreme Court in February 2019 had reserved judgment after hearing around a bunch of pleas, filed by various parties, including Nair Service Society, the priest of the temple and the temple’s board, Travancore Devaswom Board, seeking a review of the court’s September 28 judgment.
On September 28, 2018, the five-judge Constitution bench comprising then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra gave the verdict allowing entry of women of all ages. Justice Indu Malhotra was the lone dissenter in the verdict.
On November 13 last year, the apex court had agreed to hear in open court the pleas seeking review of its verdict but had refused to stay the judgment.
Here’s what the main petitioners sought in the review pleas:
The pleas filed by the petitioners relied heavily on Justice Indu Malhotra’s dissenting judgment in 2018.
The petitioners seeking recall of the verdict argued that besides "patent legal errors" in the verdict, the assumption that the temple practice was based on notions of menstrual impurity was factually erroneous. Quoting the protests that broke out after Supreme Court’s September 2018 verdict, the petitioners said that these "clearly demonstrate that overwhelmingly large section of women worshippers are supporting the custom of prohibiting entry of women".
The Nair Service Society: Senior advocate K Parasaran, the counsel for the Nair Service Society, had argued before a five-judge bench and urged the court to set aside its earlier verdict. The Nair Service Society had said that the custom banning menstruating women from entering the temple was essential to maintain the sanctity of the temple in following the age-old practice.
Travancore Devaswom Board: While the TDB, which handles management of the Sabarimala temple, had earlier opposed the entry of the women, stating that the SC’s earlier judgment did not take into consideration the ‘essential character’ of the deity. The TDB had also opposed the PIL by the Indian Young Lawyers Association, adding that the celibate character of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala temple was a unique religious feature, and it is protected under the Constitution. However, on the second day of the hearing, the TDB reversed its stand, submitting in the court that discrimination on the grounds of biological attributes was not correct.
Former thantri: The counsel for the temple priest, the former thantri of Sabarimala, told the court that the deity's celibacy would be eroded if menstruating women were allowed to worship inside the temple. Mr. Giri emphasised that each devotee entering the Temple cannot question the practices of the temple. He said that it is the duty of the Chief Priest (Thantri) to preserve the essential characteristics of the deity.
Who opposed the review petitions in court:
The Kerala government had expressed its support for the Supreme Court ruling in 2018, and urged the top court to not consider the petitions seeking the review of the judgment.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising represented Bindu and Kanaka Durga, the two women who had entered the temple after the SC’s verdict. She told the court of the incident where a ‘purification’ ritual was carried out inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple after the two women had offered prayers, adding that this was like the practice of untouchability.
The court also heard the arguments of intervenor PV Dinesh who argued that the ban on women from the age group of 10-50 years is derogatory and amounts to “depicting a 10-year-old girl as a sexual object.”