Sabarimala sent for consideration of a larger bench

Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala

The Sabarimala temple case has been referred to a larger, seven-judge bench, giving relief to pro-tradition activists.

The case has been referred to a seven-judge bench on the basis of a 3:2 ruling by the judges.

The case refers to a petition filed by some Delhi-based lawyers complaining that women devotees of Ayyappa are not traditionally allowed into the temple, and that this was a violation of women’s right to equality.

This was countered by Ayyappa devotees, who claimed that the tradition of women not entering the temple was part of the essence of the worship. They also claimed that the tradition was voluntarily observed by women and pointed out that the complaint was not filed by Ayyappa devotees.

They alleged ‘cultural imposition’ by propagators of the Vedic system of Hinduism — prevalent in North India — over the Tantric system that is more popular in South India.

The Chief Justice of India today linked the case to other similar issues, such as the entry of women into other places of worship such as mosques and Parsi temples.

There is no explicit stay on the earlier judgment.

Besides Justices Indu Malhotra and CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice AM Khanwilkar too sided with the group that wants the matter heard again.

“As far as the majority view is concerned, they chose to address the larger issues raised by the review petitions with regard to the role of the judiciary to intervene in such matters of faith and the extent to which the court can sit and preside over theological issues, whether it can perform the work of ecclesiastical courts, so to speak,” said Sai Deepak, one of the lawyers involved in the litigation.

“Since there has been a case made out for review and the consideration of a larger bench, the view of the majority judgment seems to be that the implementation of the earlier judgment should be done with a certain amount of caution…The minority view is that the review petitions should be dismissed,” he added.

Rahul Easwar, part of the priestly family at Sabarimala and a leader of the ‘resistance’ movement against the earlier judgment too said the net impact of today’s judgment would be a virtual stay.

“Even though there is no clarity regarding a stay [on the earlier judgment], there is implicit acceptance that the earlier judgement has to be reviewed,” he said. “Even if there is no stay, it implicitly means that the early judgment is being reviewed… we would also request all feminist groups to please not trespass..”

He also said the resistance movement had committed mistake last time in terms of resorting to violence, and full care will be taken to ensure that the same doesn’t recur.

“There is yet another seminal issue as to the power of the court to determine if the constitutional court can interfere in such integral parts of the religion,” the CJI said, announcing the judgment.