Indian Young Lawyers Association v. The State of Kerala, 2018

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Written by Kajal Kumari

Introduction:

On 28th September 2018, a five-judge constitution bench of Honourable Supreme Court headed by CJI Dipak Misra with Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud, Justice R.F. Nariman, and Justice Indu Malhotra declared that custom of prohibiting women from entering into the Sabarimala temple in their menstruating years i.e. between the age of 10-50 years is unconstitutional and discriminatory with Justice Indu Malhotra dissenting and it was held that women of all age groups can enter into the Sabarimala Temple.

In 4:1 majority, the Supreme Court said that the practice of prohibition of women from entering into the temple infringe the right of women and it leads to gender discrimination. This practice is against Article 14, 15, 21, and 25(1) of the Constitution of India. The Honourable Supreme Court also struck down Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 as being unconstitutional.

Background of the Case:

Sabarimala Sree Dharmasastha Temple, located at Periyar Tiger Reserve in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala, considered as the place of residence of Lord Ayyappa. Here a large number of devotees visit every year. According to the belief, Lord Ayyappa is the son of Lord Shiva and the feminine incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Ayyappa is placed as eternal celibate which means Naishtika Brahmachari and this is the reason women of menstruation years i.e. between the age of 10-50 years are restricted from entering into the Sabarimala Temple, Kerala.

Pilgrims have to observe celibacy for 41 days before entering the Sabarimala Temple, they have also required to follow a Lacto-vegetarian diet, not to use any profanity, refrain from alcohol, and also allowed to grow hair and nails without cutting and have to wear blue and black clothes, don’t have to shave until the completion of pilgrimage and they have to smear sandal paste and bhabhi on their head. It has also been expected from them that they have to bathe twice a day and visit the local temples regularly.

Facts of this Case:

In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a writ petition in the public interest. In this writ petition, the constitutional validity of Rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 has been challenged which allows the prohibition of women from entering into the public places of worship, if the prohibition is based on custom.

In 2006, a famed astrologer declared that there was a sign of a woman’s entry into the temple sometimes ago during the conduction of a temple – centric assignment called Devaprasnam. After that, Jaymala, Kannada actress-politician claimed publicly that during the shooting of her film, she entered the temple as a 28-year-old and also touched the deity. The allegation led to probe the matter through its crime branch, but the case was later dropped. Kerala’s LDF filed an affidavit in support of PIL filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association in 2008 and 2016.

Laws Applicable:

In this case, Articles 14, 15, 17, 21, 25, and 26 were applied. Article 14 of the Constitution of India guaranteed equality before the law. Under our constitution, the principle of equality runs like a golden thread throughout Constitution. Equality before the law has been taken from the Rule of Law by A.V. Dicey and has a British origin. It means equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law. Equal protection of laws has been taken from the United States. It means equality of treatment in equal circumstances.

Article 15 of the Constitution of India deals with the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Clause 1 of Article 15 prohibits discrimination by State. Under Article 17, there is not any specific meaning of untouchability given by legislation, only deals with any form of untouchability practice is forbidden. Article 21 of the Constitution of India deals with the protection of life and personal liberty. In Francis Coralie v. Union of India, 1978, it was held that the right to life is not restricted to mere animal existence but also includes the right to live with human dignity.

In Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India, 2017, it was held that liberty enables an individual to make choices on all aspects of life including what to eat, how to dress, what faith to follow. Article 25 of the Constitution of India deals with freedom of conscience, free profession, practice and propagation of religion. Freedom to manage religious affairs is dealt with under Article 26 of the Constitution of India.

Article 25 guarantees the rights of individuals. These rights are subject to public order, morality, health, and fundamental rights. Article 26 guarantees the right of religious denomination and their sections mean collective right. These rights are also subject to public order, morality, health but not subject to fundamental rights.

Issues:

  • 1. Whether the prohibition of women from entering into the time between the age of 10-50 years violates Article 14, 15, 17, 21, and 25 of the Constitution of India?
  • 2. Whether the Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 is unconstitutional?
  • 3. Whether the practice constitutes an “essential religious practice”?
  • 4. Whether Sabarimala Temple had a denominational character?

Judgement:

In 4:1 majority, the constitutional bench of Honourable Supreme Court observed that life means living with choice and dignity and religion is one of the way of life which is linked to the dignity of an individual and practices which prohibits any sections on the ground of their gender could not be allowed because it infringes the fundamental right mentioned under Article 15 of the Constitution of India and it also stated that prohibition of women from entering into the temple who are of their menstruating year i.e. between the age of 10-50 years is against the freedom of worship which is guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

Devotion can not be subject to gender discrimination. Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India gives fundamental rights to women who are between the age of 10-50 years to enter the temple and exercise their freedom of worship. Any kind of rule which differentiate and undermines the dignity of women shall be struck down as violative of Article 14 and 15 of Constitution of India.

The Honourable Supreme Court also dealt with the argument that the prohibition was a form of untouchability which is prohibited under Article 17 of the Constitution of India. The Apex Court said that there is not any specific meaning of untouchability is given by legislation and Article 17 is a powerful guarantee against exclusion and cannot be read as to exclude women against whom social exclusion of the worst kind. Prohibition of women from entering into the temple who are of their menstruating years is contrary to constitutional morality and against the liberty and dignity which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Hence the exclusion of women is unconstitutional.

The Apex Court also held that devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination under Article 26 of the Constitution of India as they could not fulfill the characteristics of religious denomination. Characteristics of the religious denomination are collective of individuals, separate religion, unique religious practice. They are Hindus who worship Lord Ayyappa. Prohibition of women is not an essential religious practice of Hindu. Sabarimala Temple’s denominational freedom under Article 26 of the Constitution of India is subject to the State’s social reform guaranteed under Article 25(2)(b) of the Constitution of India.

Under Article 25(2)(b) States are allowed to open Hindu Places of Worship which are of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus in the name of social welfare and reform. The Honourable Supreme Court also interpreted ‘classes and sections’ and said that classes and sections also include the gender category of women. Morality conceptualized under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India can not have the effect of eroding the fundamental right guaranteed under these Articles. The exclusion of women is discriminatory under Article 25 of the Constitution of India which equally grants everyone irrespective of their sex, the right to freely practice religion.

In 1991, before the Kerala High Court, in S. Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore, the prohibition of women from entering into the temple in their menstruation years had been challenged and the Court held that this is a custom prevailing since time immemorial. Hence the exclusion of women is constitutional and justified. The Honourable Supreme Court also struck down Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 as being unconstitutional. It was said that this rule is against Article 25 of the Constitution of India as well as ultra vires to Section 3 and 4 of its Parent Act. Sections 3 and 4 deal with the specific aim of reforming Public Hindu Places open to all sections of Hindus and Rule 3(b) prohibits women. It was also found that respondents had failed to establish prohibition of women practice over the years as there was not any scriptural and textual evidence.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Indu Malhotra held that what constitutes essential religious practices is for the religious community to decide and not for the Court. It was also held that notions of rationality can not be invoked in matters of religion by Courts.

Conclusion:

Freedom of religion plays an important role in the proper functioning of democracy in India as India is a secular country. Countries like India, where religion plays an important role in shaping society. In this case, the Honourable Supreme Court tried to fill the gap between social reality and constitutional ideals.


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