The Supreme Court on Friday opened the gates of the Sabarimala temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa in Kerala to the women in the 10-50 age group, saying the ban violated their fundamental rights and constitutional guarantees.
In a majority 4:1 judgment, the top court also read down the provision of Kerala laws that protected the prohibition and said it could not be covered under practices essential and integral to religious practice.
Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge in the five-judge bench, gave a dissenting judgment.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra reading out the judgment, also on behalf of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, said that subversion of women’s rights under the garb of the physiological phenomenon cannot be allowed.
“All devotees are equal and there cannot be any discrimination on the basis of gender,” Misra said.
Justice Rohinton F. Nariman in a separate but concurring judgment said that people of all faiths visit the temples — worshipers are not of the separate denomination.
“Religion cannot become a cover to exclude and deny women their right to worship,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud also said in a separate but concurring judgment.
Holding that the Sabarimala temple is not a denominational temple peculiar to any sect, the court said that the Ayyappa temple belongs to Hindus and does not constitute a separate entity.
The apex court also read down the provision of Kerala laws that protected the practice of prohibiting the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years.
Justice Indu Malhotra said: “What constitutes essential practices of religion is to be decided by worshippers and it is not for the judiciary to adjudicate.
“It is not for courts to decide if such practices should be struck down. Rationality cannot be used to judge faith. All followers must be allowed to follow their own faith as per their own beliefs in a secular polity.