The Bombay High Court on Friday ruled that women cannot be barred from entering a place of worship.
Now that the Bombay High Court has legally backed gender equality in the Shani Shingnapur temple case, will the next Kerala government too take a pro-women stance at least now, when it comes to allowing all women -irrespective of their menstrual age- to undertake the arduous Sabarimala pilgrimage every year?
The ruling Congress-led front in Kerala had at the very last moment done a volte-face for fear of upsetting religious sentiments and had asked for the present status quo to be maintained while filing its fresh affidavit before the Kerala High Court. The previous LDF government had told the court that it had no issues allowing women inside the temple.
The Sabarimala temple had come under legal scrutiny after the Indian Young Lawyers' Association (IYLA) filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking entry for all women, thereby prompting the court to ask temple authorities for an explanation in this regard.
Following innumerable death-threats, the lawyer who filed the IPL had to again approach the Court asking to withdraw the said petition.
It is in this backdrop that the Bombay High Court in its ruling on Friday stated that as per the present law prevailing in the country, there was no rule or law that could bar a womanâ€™s entry to any place which a man could visit.
Responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Nilima Varta and Vidya Bal challenging the tradition of disallowing women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, the Court said that it is the Stateâ€™s duty to protect the fundamental rights of women.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice DH Waghela and Justice MS Sonak while invoking the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorization) Act-1956 said that if a temple or person prohibits any person from entering a temple, then he or she will be subject to a six-month imprisonment as punishment.
The discriminatory practice â€“the Court said- also violates Articles 14 (Equality before Law), 25 and 26 (Freedom of Religion) of the Constitution.
â€śThere is no law that prevents entry of women to any place. If you allow men, then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity, why not women? It is the State governmentâ€™s duty to protect the rights of women,â€ť the Court observed.
Simply put, what the Court did was to sensibly uphold a womanâ€™s right to pray wherever she wanted. Now that the law too has officially raised its voice against gender discrimination, the question is whether temple authorities at the famed Sabarimala shrine too will have a change of heart.