Can women be allowed in the temple of Lord Ayappa?

​Case Brief : Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala 

Deciding Authority : Supreme Court of India

Date : 13/10/2017

Bench : CJI Deepak Misra, J. R Banumathi, J. Ashok Bhushan

Facts of the case : Lord Ayappa Temple in Kerala has restricted the entry of women aged between 10 to 50 years in the premises of the temple on the basis of certain prevailing customs. This custom violates certain provisions of the Constitution but at the same time, there were certain acts prevailing in Kerala which had this provision of banning the entry of the women of the mentioned age group. A writ petition was filed in the High Court of Kerala and the Division Bench upheld the practice of banning the entry. To oppose the same, a counter affidavit was filed in which the justification of the ban was provided. The High Court came to the conclusion that this practice was not violative of the provisions of the Constitution.

The respondents in the present case filed a counter affidavit stating that the restriction of women between the age of 10 and 50 has been prevailing in Sabrarimala from time immemorial. This is in keeping with the unique “pratishta sangalp” or idol concept of the temple. The same is an essential and integral part of the right of practice or religion of a devotee and comes under protective guarantee of the Constitution under article 25 and 26 which has been held to contain a guarantee for rituals, observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are an essential or integral part of religion. It is then immune from challenge under Article 14.

The petitioners have contended that there is no religious custom or usage in the Hindu religion to disallow women during menstrual period. According to them, banning entry of women would be against the basic tenets of Hindu religion.  in the matters of managing religious affairs, all practices are not always sacrosanct, for there may be many ill practices like superstitions which in due course of time may be merely accretions to the basic theme of that religious denomination. It is put forth by him that entry to the temple is not essential to religion and there is difference between “regulation of entry” and “complete prohibition of entry”.

Judgment : Having noted the submissions of the learned counsel for the parties and that of the State, we feel certain significant issues arise for consideration. Be it noted, learned counsel for the parties have formulated certain issues as we had reserved the order on a singular aspect, that is, whether the matter should be referred to the Constitution Bench or not. We need not reproduce the questions framed by them. 

26. According to court the following questions arose for consideration:- 

1. Whether the exclusionary practice which is based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to “discrimination” and thereby violates the very core of Articles 14, 15 and 17 and not protected by ‘morality’ as used in Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution? 

2. Whether the practice of excluding such women constitutes an “essential religious practice” under Article 25 and whether a religious institution can  30assert a claim in that regard under the umbrella of right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion? 

3. Whether Ayyappa Temple has a denominational character and, if so, is it permissible on the part of a ‘religious denomination’ managed by a statutory board and financed under Article 290-A of the Constitution of India out of Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu can indulge in such practices violating constitutional principles/ morality embedded in Articles 14, 15(3), 39(a) and 51-A(e)? 

4. Whether Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules permits ‘religious denomination’ to ban entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 years? And if so, would it not play foul of Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women on the ground of sex? 

5. Whether Rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965 is ultra vires the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 and , if treated to be intra vires, whether it will be violative of the provisions of Part III of the Constitution? 

Held : Let the papers be placed before the learned Chief Justice for constitution of the appropriate larger Bench. 

(This is prepared by Mayank Singhal, a Law Student)

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