Kerala Govt says status quo will be maintained, after SC agrees to re-examine Sabarimala order

Supreme Court of India of India has agreed to hear the Sabarimala age-restriction matter once again, prompting the Kerala law minister to say that the state government will maintain status quo at the site.

It will take up the matter on January 22, after the current pilgrimage season, for detailed hearing.

It is not yet clear whether the earlier order has been expressly stayed or not. There is currently no stay on the earlier order.

“We make it clear that there is no stay of the judgement and the order of this court dated 28th September,” the latest order said.

Even though there is no stay on the earlier judgement, the move has given a breather to the state government, which has been dilly dallying on the issue of implementing the September order.

Kerala’s law minister, AK Balan, said the ‘usual practice’ in such cases is for status quo to be maintained as long as the review petition is being heard. Asked if he meant to say that the High Court order — which upheld the age restrictions — constituted the status quo, he said: “Yes.”

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said today’s order doesn’t seem to have changed anything. He said the court has agreed to hear the review petition, but has also maintained that there is not stay on the earlier judgment. “So, we have to see the legal implications of that,” he said.

CPIM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan — a hardliner who has been pushing the government to take a tougher stand against protesters — said the government will take a ‘suitable decision’ after studying the situation. He, however, noted that there has been no stay on the earlier order.

Today’s move by the bench has been welcomed by the protesters, who pointed out that the overwhelming majority of review petitions are dismissed without detailed hearing. Protest leader Rahul Easwar called it a ‘partial victory’.

He said the protesters will continue their watch over the shrine. “It is our constitutional right to protest peacefully. We will lay down in the path. If Trupti Desai wants to enter the temple, she will have to step on our chests,” he said, adding that the temple should not be made the venue of a ‘show of strength’ by activists like Desai.

Meanwhile, the Congress Party said it will go ahead with its protests in this matter.

“We hope the government will take a prudent stand in this matter… Government should not try to take a stand that we will forcibly take the women inside. Please do not make this a battlefield,” said state Congress party chief Ramesh Chennithala.

Vellappalli Nateshan, leader of SNDP — the informal caste association of Ezhavas — the largest Hindu community of Kerala — welcomed the latest move, but also added that the state government could not be blamed for trying to implement the earlier order.

“We (Keralites) failed to convince the Supreme Court of the sensitivities of the matter, and the Supreme Court took a decision with the information that it had, and the government ended up in the situation of having to implement it,” he said.

Today’s review petitions were taken up for hearing in public, but were considered inside the chamber of Ranjan Gogoi, chief justice of India.

A total of 50 review petitions have been filed by those injured by the recent order when a bench ruled that age restrictions placed on women who enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala were not valid, and were violative of the rights of women who wanted to enter the temple, but belonged to the restricted age group.

Meanwhile, four writ petitions, which are in the nature of fresh cases, were also filed in the same matter, including some by those who have filed the review petitions.

These were initially supposed to have been taken up at 11 AM. However, the court later said that they will be taken up only after the review petitions are considered in the afternoon.

The outcome of the review petitions is likely to have wider political and law-and-order implications for the state of Kerala, where a majority of the people oppose the court’s decision to abrogate the traditions of the holiest Hindu shrine in the state.

Over a dozen women tried to enter the temple since the Supreme Court came out with its order a month ago, but were forced to turn back in the face of stiff opposition and protests by pilgrims and believers, including women.

By tradition, women are supposed to visit the temple before they turn 10 years of age or after they have turned 50.

The Supreme Court order has breathed new life into the state unit of Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala, where the saffron outfit has been languishing with single-digit vote shares for nearly half a century.

On the other hand, the unpopular ruling has pushed the Left Front government into a corner, having to pick between implementing the court’s order and displeasing people who voted it to power.

The Left Front gets about 75% of its votes from Hindus, particularly from members of the intermediate and lower castes who also form the bulk of the Ayyappa devotees in the state.