Kerala Govt softens stand on Sabarimala women’s entry issue

Dharma Shastha Temple at Sabarimala

Government of Kerala has given an indication that it intends to soften its stand on the issue of entry of young women to the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala.

While the earlier affidavit of the Devaswom Board — the government-controlled body that administers former royal temples of Kerala — had come in favor of opening the temple to all women regardless of age, the Board is now likely to amend its stand in front of the larger, 9-judge bench that will start hearing the matter next week.

“It is our stand that because this is a matter that relates to traditions and observances, a committee of experts — including those who have deep knowledge in Hindu religious practices — should be constituted, and the Supreme Court should arrive at its final decision after taking into consideration the inputs of this committee as well,” Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said.

This is a deviation from the earlier stand of the Devaswom Board — stated in an affidavit filed by it in front of the Supreme Court — that it was not opposed to the entry of young women into the temple.

Kerala Government had also told the Court earlier that it would implement the court’s decision one way or the other.

However, the government led by Pinarayi Vijayan was unable to implement the 2018 order of the Supreme Court in which a bench headed by then chief justice Dipak Misra ruled that restrictions on the entry of young women did not have any basis in scriptures.

The judgment, which asked the Kerala government to ensure the entry of all women — regardless of age — into the temple subsequently led to massive protests across the state.

The Kerala government did, however, make an attempt to carry out the Supreme Court order by sneaking two women inside the temple in the dead of the night under heavy police protection.

However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that followed soon after, the ruling Left Front saw a massive erosion of its votes and ended up winning just 1 out of 20 seats from the state.

Since then, the government has been far less enthusiastic about carrying out the order, and has been turning back young women who try to enter the hill-top shrine.

Meanwhile, after a change in the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court too indicated that it was willing to have a relook at the matter and re-examine whether it was qualified or required to rule on the religious merit of popular observances and tradition.

The Supreme Court also decided to consider the matter in a larger context of restrictions and roles imposed by various religions on various categories of people — including on the basis of age, sex, and — like in Sabarimala — a combination of the two.

The expanded constitutional bench comprising nine judges will sit for the first time on Monday, and is expected to spell out who will be made parties to case and so on.

Meanwhile, Kerala Devaswom Board will make public its revised stand “in two days”, said president N Vasu.