Indian Young Lawyers vs State of Kerala
Citation: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 373 of 2006
Everyone should be equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination, this phrase is popular nowadays. But do people really believe this, women in our country are still struggling to get rights, equal treatment, and respect? Getting treated equally is a fundamental right for women, yet it is still considered a luxury. But with the changing time, things are getting change, and as a result of it, various reforms have come through judgments, such as the Shah Bano case, in this case, the Supreme Court protected the rights of Muslim women from practicing triple talaq. Moreover, in Dr. Noorjehan Safia vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors, case, Supreme Court take the decision in the favor of Noorjehan Safia and allowed the entry of women into the Haji Ali Dargah.
The temple Sabarimala shrine, which is located in the state of Kerala doesn’t allow women of menstruating age 10-50 to enter the temple and worship the god. The reason behind this norm is that lord Iyappa is a celibate god. Lord Iayapa asked women to Stay away from him to fulfill his promise. The religious belief forbade women from entering the temple, according to thousands of years of tales.
A group of five women lawyers challenged this decision of the Kerala High Court before the Apex Court. It was argued that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules 1965, specifying women are not permitted to enter a place of public worship during times when they are not permitted by custom and usage, was an infringement of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, and 25 of the Indian Constitution.
Parties Involved in the Case
Indian Young Lawyers Association; Dr. Laxmi Shastri; Prerna Kumari; Alka Sharma; Sudha Pal.
The State of Kerala; Travancore Devaswom Board; Chief Tanthri of Sabarimala Temple; District Magistrate of Pathanamthitta; Nair Service Society; Akhil Bhartiya Ayyappa Seva Sangham; Ayyappa Seva Samithi; Ayyappa Pooja Samithi; Dharma Sanstha Seva Samajam; Akil Bhartiya Malayalee Sangh; sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam; Kerala Kshetra Samarak Shana Samithi; Pandalam Kottaram Nirvahaka Sangham; sabarimala Custom Protection Forum
R.P. Gupta; Raja Ramachandran (Amicus Curiae); K. Ramamoorthy (Amicus Curiae).
Jaideep Gupta; Liz Mathew; Venugopal, (Travancore Devaswom); V. Giri, (State of Kerala); Rakesh Dwivedi; K. Radhakrishanan.
In this case, there was 5 judges constitutional bench. The bench includes Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice R F Nariman, Justice D Y Chandrachud, and Justice Indu Malhotra.
The case was referred from a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, in the case of the Indian Young Lawyers Association and Ors. vs. State of Kerala and Ors. ((2017) 10 SCC 689). The focus of the case was the Sabarimala shrine, a Hindu temple in Kerala dedicated to God Ayyappan. As per tradition, women of menstruating age, i.e. between 10-50 years, were not allowed to enter the temple as the temple was dedicated to a celibate God, and there was a belief that women of menstruating age would cause an affront to the value of celibacy in the Temple.
This exclusion was justified on the basis of ancient custom, which was legitimized by Rule 3(b), framed under the KHPW Act. Rule 3(b) provided for the exclusion of “women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship.”
The Kerala High Court, in the case of S. Mahendran vs. The Secretary, Travancore Devaswom Board, Thiruvananthapuram and Ors (AIR 1993 Ker. 42) had held that such a restriction was not violative of the fundamental rights of women under the Constitution. A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ultimately considered the matter.
- Whether an exclusionary practice that was based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounted to “discrimination” and thereby violated Articles 14, 15, and 17 without being protected by “morality” as used in Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution;
- Whether the practice of excluding such women constituted an “essential religious practice” under Article 25 and whether a religious institution could assert a claim in that regard under the umbrella of the right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion;
- Whether Ayyappa Temple had a denominational character and, if so, was it permissible on the part of a ‘religious denomination’ managed by a statutory board and financed out of the Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to violate constitutional morality; and
- Whether Rule 3(b) of the KHPW Rules, 1965 was ultra vires the KHPW Act, 1965 and if treated to be intra vires, whether it violated Part III of the Constitution.
Arguments in the Favour of Women
The arguments given in favor of women’s entry by the petitioners were Menstruation is not impure. Moreover, that women should have equal rights to enter the Sabarimala Temple. A criticism claims that we cannot consider women impure based on menstruation and it is gender discrimination. The Chief Minister of Kerala said that his party (Left Democratic Front) has always supported gender equality. In addition, they provide facilities and protection for women. This practice also violates Article 14 (Equality before Law) of the Indian Constitution as discrimination on the basis of a specific age group of women is not reasonable discrimination.
- This restriction violates Articles 15, 25, and 26 of the Indian Constitution:
Violation of Article 15
Article 15 deals with “prohibition on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”. Here, this practice involves a violation of Article 15 as discrimination to enter the temple was based on ‘sex’.
Violation of Article 25
Article 25 deals with “freedom of conscience and free profession, propagation and practices of religion”. Here, this practice involves a violation of Article 25 as it prevents women from freedom of practice of religion.
Violation of Article 26
Article 26 deals with “freedom to manage religious affairs”. Here, this practice clearly violates the provision of Article 26.
- The provisions in Kerala Hindu Place of Public Worship Act, 1965 which support restriction to women’s entry into the temple is unconstitutional as it violates Article 14, 15, 25, and 26 of the Indian Constitution.
- One of the arguments from the side of the petitioner is that the Lord Ayyappa temple was not a separate religious denomination for Article 26 because the religious practices performed in Sabarimala Temple at the time of ‘puja’ and other religious ceremonies are not different from other religious practices performed in other Hindu Temples.
Arguments against women
The arguments given against women’s entry by Respondent- Such religious practices are not so old as it is a tradition to respect God/Goddess of the Temple. Several temples, such as the Bramha temple in Pushkar, also prohibit men from entering and worshipping.
- There is no violation of Articles 15, 25, and 26 of the Indian Constitution as the restriction is only in respect of women of a particular age group and not women as a class.
The above-mentioned Articles of the Indian Constitution would be violated only if the practice of restricting women’s entry is imposed on them as a class. The provisions in the Kerala Hindu Place of Public Worship Act, 1965 also support this restriction.
Judgment (Ratio decidendi and Obiter Dictum):
‘Ratio decidendi’ is the rule of law on which judicial decision is based. It is legally binding.
On 28th September 2018, the Court delivered its verdict in this case by a 4:1 majority. it was held that the restriction of women in Sabarimala Temple is unconstitutional. It held that the practice violated the fundamental rights to equality, liberty, and freedom of religion, Articles 14, 15, 19(1), 21, and 25(1). It struck down Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act as unconstitutional. Rule 3(b) allowed for Hindu denominations to exclude women from public places of worship, if the exclusion was based on ‘custom’.
The Apex Court has allowed entry of women of all age groups to the Sabarimala Temple, and held that “Devotion can not be subjected to Gender Discrimination.”
‘Obiter dictum’ is a judge’s expression of opinion uttered in court or in a written judgment but not essential to the decision and therefore not legally binding as a precedent.
In this case, the Court ruled thus:
“We have no doubt in saying that such practice infringes the right of women to enter a temple and freely practice Hindu religion”.
“Devotion can not be subjected to Gender Discrimination”.
Hon’ble Chief Justice of India stated in his Judgement that religion is a way of life linked to the dignity of individuals and patriarchal practices based on the exclusion of one gender in favor of another could not be allowed to infringe upon the fundamental freedom to practice and profess one’s religion.
Critical Analysis of the Judgement
The lone woman on the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, dissented.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R F Nariman, Justice A M Khanwilkar, and Justice D Y Chandrachud constituted the majority.
Opinion of Chief Justice & Justice AM Khanwilkar
Chief Justice of India Hon’ble Dipak Misra while reading out portions of the judgment written for himself and Justice A M Khanwilkar said that women are not lesser or inferior to men. Religious patriarchy cannot be allowed to triumph over belief. Biological reasons (such as menstruation) can not be accepted in freedom of faith. Religion is basically a way of life.
The Judgement of the Chief Justice of India also held that Ayyappa devotees will not constitute a separate religious denomination. The court struck down Kerala’s Hindu worship rule 3b, which banned women from Sabarimala, as unconstitutional.
Opinion of Justice Nariman
The separate but concurring opinion of Justice Nariman held that “Anything destructive of individuality in anachronistic of Constitutionality. To treat women as people of lower status blinks at the Constitution itself”. However, the court held that Ayyappas is not a distinct religious denomination.
Opinion of Justice DY Chandrachud
Justice Chandrachud in his separate but concurring opinion held that the idea behind the ban was that the presence of women will disturb virginity, and that was placing the burden of men’s virginity on women. Additionally, this stigmatizes and stereotypes women, he observed.
Opinion of Justice Indu Malhotra
Justice Indu Malhotra dissented, stating that courts should not typically intervene in matters of profound religious significance. Hence, the Court should not interrupt this matter unless there is any resentful person from that section or religion.
One should not view religious matters through the lens of rationality. Additionally, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution protected the shrine and the deity, according to her.
Justice DY Chandrachud
Justice Chandrachud in his judgment expressed that restricting just females from the right to worship implies the subordination of females. He further remarks that the exclusionary practice which depends on ‘biological factors’ that are non-religious in nature, recommends that females can’t keep the ‘vrutham’ are taking part in stereotypes encouraging discrimination in society. Moreover, only because of mensuration restricting someone is unconstitutional and Art 17 also includes women hence practicing such will lead to a patriarchal push towards society.
Justice Mishra stated that rules that undermine the dignity of women and create a divide will be deemed violative of Article 14 and 15 and be struck down. Moreover, devotees of Ayyappa didn’t pass the test for the religious denomination and hence they cannot be gained a separate religious identity. Moreover, he interpreted that ‘classes and sections’ also include women and told that it needs state mandate reform. Furthermore, he struck down rule 3(b) of the Kerela Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules of 1965 and said that practicing prayers without women is not an essential religious practice.
Justice Nariman delivered a concurring opinion saying he cannot grant the devotees a separate denomination but can call them Hindus who worship the idol Ayyappa and declare denominational freedom under Art 25(2)(b). In addition, he said that denying female their right to worship is unconstitutional.
Justice Malhotra gave a dissenting opinion saying religious practice must be in the internal part of the temple and it’s their internal affair, no matter if their practice is rational and illogical. She mentioned that the temple is qualified as a religious denomination. Moreover, she said Art 14 does provide the right to equality to women but it cannot overlap Art 25. She denies that the practice was violative of Art 17, the discrimination was simply to maintain the purity of the temple. The discrimination mentioned in Art 17 does not include gender-based hence it was not violative.
The Indian constitution declares that everyone must be treated equally and that caste, religion, and gender should not result in injustice for anyone. Supreme Court said it is against the democracy of India to restrict the entry of women into the temple. In the case of Indian Young Lawyers vs State of Kerala, the Supreme Court took a decision in favor of women entering the temple without any restrictions.