Gender activists and others waiting for today’s Supreme Court judgment on the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple were slightly disappointed today after the court refused to rule one way or the other, instead referring the matter to a constitutional bench.
The bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan framed several questions raised by the public interest litigation and held that these should be decided by a constitutional bench.
Matters that related to fundamental rights contained in the Constitution of India are decided by specially empowered benches known as constitutional benches.
Among the questions referred to the bench include the question of whether or not any group of people — women in this case — can be prevented from entering a Hindu place of worship according to current laws.
It will also examine whether the fundamental rights of women are being infringed upon by the imposition of a ban on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 by the temple authorities.
Many historians trace the roots of the Sabarimala Temple — dedicated to Dharma Shastha and situated in a heavily forested area — to a Buddhist monastery that was located in the hilly area.
As was usual for Buddhist monasteries in the middle ages, women were not allowed admission to a place inhabited exclusively by celibate monks.
The temple is currently considered part of the Brahmanic tradition, and the head priest is always chosen from the Brahmin community.
Despite this, Sabarimala remains different from many traditional temples as it never observed caste distinctions, even as most temples in Kerala restricted entry to those belonging to the four varnas of Vedic Hinduism.
Besides, the head of the institution is still referred to as Tantri. Buddhism in its later days morphed into Tantricism in many areas.
Conservatives within Kerala society want to keep the restriction in place, arguing that it is part of the tradition and appeal of the pilgrimage center which attracts millions of people every year.
They also ran a campaign, known as ‘ready to wait’, featuring women holding placards saying they were ready to wait till they are 50-years old to make the pilgrimage.
The Supreme Court has, in the past, termed illegal traditional and religious practices that violate the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution. It recently held that the practice of divorcing a woman by chanting ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ was illegal as it violated Muslim women’s fundamental rights.