A constitution is the collection of guiding ideals or accepted precedents that serve as the basis for a polity, organization, or any other kind of institution and, in many cases, establish how that entity is to be governed. A law or tradition that violates any of the six fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution may be challenged in court and declared unconstitutional.
One of these rights, the right to equality, was infringed in the instance of the Sabarimala Temple's ban on women entering between the ages of 10 and 50.
Due to their traditional and conservative outlook, the officials and priests of the temple forbade menstruating women between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the grounds because they thought it would call into question the sanctity and purity of the deity of the temple.
However, the aforementioned judgment issued by the Supreme Court altered this long-standing tradition and practice. In a momentous decision on September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court allowed women of any age to enter Kerala's Sabarimala shrine.
Owing to the dynamic character of the term and its widest possible interpretation, equality. The Constitution's Articles 14 through 18 define the right to equality. The right guaranteed by the constitution includes both the positive right of being treated equally and the negative right of not being subjected to discrimination.
To treat everyone equally is to practice equality. However, as it is extremely impossible to evaluate everyone using the same standard, certain fair categories have been made for the social and cultural well-being of some of the demographic strata.
The equality concept forbids unjustified discrimination between people. The State has a duty to treat everyone equally and to work actively to eliminate any inequities that may already exist.
According to the equality principle, discriminating between people who have been put in comparable circumstances is prohibited since it would violate their legal right to be treated equally. Although not covered by this Article and upheld as constitutionally valid, some unique status & advantages are provided to a specific class of people for their upliftment.
Women between the ages of 10 and 50 were prohibited from entering the temple by the Kerala High Court in 1991.
In its ruling, the High Court noted that women have been prohibited from visiting temples since the dawn of time and that, in earlier times, only priests had the authority to make decisions regarding matters of tradition.
However, after this, the ban was contested by a group of attorneys on the grounds that it was discriminatory, in violation of the principles of the right to equality, and placed restrictions on their right to practise their religion.
After the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the issue finally made it to the Supreme Court in 2016. After that, the matter was sent to the five-judge Constitution bench, which was presided over by Deepak Misra, the country's then Chief Justice. R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra made up the bench.
The Supreme Court issued the hotly contested decision lifting the restriction on women entering the Sabarimala Shrine in 2018. Women of all ages were permitted entry to the shrine, according to the court. By a vote of 4:1, the bench reached its conclusion that the temple's practise violates Hindu women's rights and encourages discrimination against women.
The following arguments were made by those who supported the admission of women to Sabarimala:
● It would be against Articles 14, 15, 19, and 25 of the Indian Constitution to forbid women from entering places of worship like the Sabarimala Temple. These articles cover the rights to equality, the prohibition of gender-based discrimination, the freedom of movement, and the freedom of religion.
● Restricting women's access to holy sites is one of the many ways partiality is imposed, and these limitations are typically founded on patriarchy rather than religious principles.
● According to the limited ladies, being denied admission to the Inner Sanctum Sanatorium constitutes a breach of their fundamental right to worship, which is protected by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution for all citizens.
● The Indian Constitution guarantees that the right to profess one's own religion cannot be superseded by the right to govern one's own religious affairs under Section-26.
● It is discriminatory to forbid women from entering the shrine since it goes against the principle that everyone is equal before God.
● From the elimination of Sati and untouchability to the declaration of women's admittance into temples, judicial and legislative reforms have been made addressing women.
The opinions expressed by the general public in favour of women visiting Sabarimala are listed below.
● There was never any caste- or color-based discrimination against any particular community at Sabarimala.
● The foundation of Sabarimala is a tale. According to a myth with religious connections, the main deity is celibate, and the presence of a woman who is menstruation would interfere with his ability to meditate. It has always been acceptable for women outside of this age range to visit the shrine.
● Sabarimala was not established by any act of the Kerala State Assembly, Parliament, or any court order; rather, it was founded on faith, and if this faith were not upheld, Sabarimala would not exist as it does today.
● Of course, the Supreme Court may issue a ruling allowing women access to the shrine, but doing so would only serve to further mock those whose very faith depends on their place of worship.
● Religious institutions are exempt from the provisions of Article 15 of the constitution. Public temples are not mentioned anywhere in Article 15(2), which grants residents the freedom to access places like hotels, stores, and other establishments.
● Only secular components are included by Article 25(2), which also covers social issues under its purview but excludes gender- or religion-based issues.
The Sabarimala controversy offers the Indian courts a great chance to revisit and evaluate their long-standing practices on discrimination against particular groups in society. By considering the devotees' confidence in the Sabarimala deity, the court will need to consider more than merely denying women the right to practice their religion freely. This will also create the groundwork for a fundamental rereading of the constitution. In order to prevent violence that can break out as a result of such judicial decisions, it becomes crucial for the Indian judiciary to devise a mechanism for handling situations like the one at Sabarimala.
-- Lakshitha, Right to equality with special emphasis on Sabarimala Temple Case, legal services India, ( Jun. 23, 2022, 7:22 PM), https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6492-right-to-equality-with-special-emphasis-on-sabarimala-temple-case.html. Namrata Kandankovi, Sabarimala Issue : the quest for Equality, ipleaders, (Jun. 23, 2022, 7:25 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/sabarimala-issue-the-quest-for-equality/. Namrata Kandankovi, Sabarimala Issue : the quest for Equality, ipleaders, (Jun. 23, 2022, 7:25 PM), https://blog.ipleaders.in/sabarimala-issue-the-quest-for-equality/.
This article is written by Roma Bennur of St. Joseph's College of Law, Bangalore.