Indian Young Lawyers Association vs The State Of Kerala
Dipak Misra, C.J.I., A.M. Khanwilkar, Rohinton Fali Nariman, Dr. D.Y.
Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
Sabarimala temple is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala. The temple
has a unique practice in which devotees must undertake 41 days of penance and
renounce worldly things. According to devotees, Lord Ayyappa is unmarried. Women
of menstruating years were prohibited from entering the temple to protect the
purity of the deity.
This was first challenged in Kerala High Court. The court in S. Mahendran v
The Secretary, Travancore
held that the exclusion was constitutional and
In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a public interest litigation
before the Supreme Court challenging the Sabarimala Temple's prohibition of
women. In their PIL they challenged that the practice is unconstitutional as it
violates Article 14 'Right to Equality and Article 25 Freedom of Religion of
On August 18th 2006, the Supreme Court issued notices to the parties. On March
7th 2008, the matter was referred to a 3-Judge Bench. The matter was next heard
seven years later, on January 11th 2016. On February 20th 2017, the Court
expressed its inclination to refer the case to a Constitution Bench. Finally on
October 13th 2017, the three-Judge Bench composed of Chief Justice Dipak Misra,
Justices R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan ordered a 5-Judge Constitution Bench to
pass Judgement on the case.
Issue Before The Court:
Arguments By Petitioners
- Whether the practice of excluding women on ground of biological factor
amounts to "discrimination" and violates Articles 14, 15 and 17?
- Whether the practice of excluding such women constitutes an "essential
religious practice" under article 25?
- Whether the temple has denominational character?
- Whether Rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules
permits religious denomination to ban entry of women and if so would it not
violate Articles 14 and 15(3) of Constitution?
Arguments By The Respondent
- The Petitioners contested that Sabarimala temple is not a separate
religious denomination as religious practices performed in Sabarimala temple
at the time of puja and other religious ceremonies are similar to practices
performed by any other Hindu temple.
- They said that in the Hindu religion, discrimination in matters of entry
to temples is not ceremonial. Restriction on the entry of women is not the
essence of Hindu religion.
- The Petitioners submitted that mere sight of women cannot affect one's
oath of celibacy. The devotees do not go to the temple for taking oath but
for seeking the blessings of Lord Ayyappa.
- Petitioners submitted that the expression 'at any such time' occurring
in Rule 3(b) does not lead to complete exclusion of any woman.
- Petitioners contested that as per Article 14 if any law is
discriminatory in nature, it has to have a rationality and the difference
must be capable of being understood (intelligible differentia). The object,
what has been claimed that is to prevent the deity from being polluted which
runs counter to the constitutional object of equality and fraternity.
- The petitioners have also put forth that the practice per se violates
Article 15(1) of the Constitution which is to discriminate on the basis of
sex as menstruation is exclusive to females. It was submitted by the
Petitioners that this practice violates Article 25 of the Constitution as
this is the right of Hindu women to enter temples dedicated to public.
- The Respondent submitted that Lord Ayyappa is a hyper-masculine god born
out of the union of two male gods Shiva and Mohini, where Mohini is Vishnu
in female form. Therefore Sabarimala Temple is supposed to depict Naishtika
- The Respondent has drawn the attention of Court towards the basic tenets
of the establishment of the temple. As per Respondent, Ayyappa had explained
the manner in which the Sabarimala pilgrimage was to be undertaken
emphasizing the importance of Vrutham' which are special observances that
need to be followed in order to achieve spiritual refinement, and that as a
part of the Vruthum', the person going on pilgrimage separates himself from
all family ties for 41 days and during the said period either the woman
leaves the house or the man resides elsewhere in order to separate himself
from all family ties. Thereafter, the Respondent has pointed out that the
problem with women is that they cannot complete the 41 days Vruthum as their
periods would eventually fall within the said period and it is a custom
among all Hindus that women do not go to temples or participate in religious
activities during periods and the same is substantiated by the statement of
the basic Thantric text of temple worshipping in Kerala Thantra Samuchayam,
Chapter 10, Verse II.
- The Respondent has laid emphasis on that the Vruthum is an age-old
custom and anyone who cannot fulfill this, cannot enter the temple and hence
women who have not attained puberty and who are in menopause alone can take
- The Respondent has also submitted that this condition is not applicable
to women alone, even men who cannot observe 41 days of Vruthum due to births
and deaths in the family, which result in breaking of Vruthum, are also not
allowed to take pilgrimage.
- The Respondent draws the attention of the Court to the fact that
religious customs as well as the traditional science of Ayurveda consider
menstrual period as an occasion for rest for women and a period of
uncleanliness of the body and during this period, women are affected by
several discomforts and, hence, observance of intense spiritual discipline
for 41 days is not possible. The Respondent No. 4 has also contented that it
is for the sake of pilgrims who practice celibacy that young women are not
allowed in the Sabarimala pilgrimage.
- The Respondent contested that the prohibition is not a social
discrimination but is only a part of the essential spiritual discipline
related to this particular pilgrimage.
On 28th September 2018, the Court delivered its verdict in this case by 4:1
majority which held that the restriction of women in Sabarimala Temple is
unconstitutional. Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R F Nariman, Justice A M
Khanwilkar and Justice D Y Chandrachud constituted the majority. It held that
the practice violated the fundamental rights to equality, liberty and freedom of
religion, Articles 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.
The lone woman on the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, dissented. She said that
issues of deep religious sentiments should not be ordinarily be interfered by
the Court. The Court should not interrupt in this matter unless if there is any
resentful person from that section or religion. The notion of rationality should
not be seen in religious matters. She also held that shrine and the deity are
protected by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
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