Sabarimala Row: Women Devotees Move Kerala HC For Police Security To Offer Prayers

Preventing women from exercising the religious right of worship was punishable with imprisonment of three years under Sec 295A of The Indian Penal Code (IPC), petitioners said.

Sabarimala Row: Women Devotees Move Kerala HC For Police Security To Offer Prayers

Four women in the menstrual age group have approached the Kerala High Court seeking a direction to the state government to provide them security to offer prayers at Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala.

When the petition filed by A K Maya Krishnan (37), Rekha S (45), Jalajamol P S (35), and Jayamol P S (28) came up Wednesday, a division bench of justices P R Ramachandra Menon and Devan Ramachandran directed the state government to spell out its stand on the matter.

The bench then posted the plea for hearing to Monday.

In their petition, the women, including two lawyers, submitted that despite a judgement of the Supreme Court permitting entry of all women into the hill shrine, the hopes of the female devotees of Lord Ayyappa are still in limbo.

The petitioners alleged that the thanthris (priests) and Pandalam royal family who are bound to act under the directions of the TDB were committing contempt of court by protesting in support of those challenging the fundamental rights declared by the Supreme Court in favour of woman of all ages.

The very act of protest to prevent the women of all ages from enjoying their fundamental right is a challenge of the established law of the county, they alleged.

Preventing women from exercising the religious right of worship was punishable with imprisonment of three years under Sec 295A of The Indian Penal Code (IPC), they added.

The Sabarimala temple, which opened for the monthly pooja on October 17 after the Supreme Court order, had witnessed a stand-off over the issue with angry devotees preventing at least a dozen women in the "barred" age group from entering the shrine.

On September 28, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by then chief justice Dipak Misra had lifted the centuries-old ban on the entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine.

Safeguard tradition. Save Sabarimala. Such have been the rallying cries of the prickled phalanxes protesting the recent Supreme Court judgment that overturned the ban on women bet­ween the ages of 10 and 50 ent­ering the Ayyappan temple at Sabarimala in Kerala. In the eyes of many Malayalis, this was an assault on a tradition that, since time immemorial, had defended the immaculate chastity of their naishthika brahmacharin (chaste, perpetual religious student) lord. 

Soon after the Supreme Court passed the order, members of the Opposition Congress and BJP in Kerala extended support to Ayyappa devotees. The CPI-M led LDF, said there was an attempt to "politicise" the Supreme Court order on Sabarimala.

The BJP said its protest would not be confined to Kerala and would expand to other South Indian states.

A look at it:

1991: Kerala High Court upholds an age-old restriction on women of a certain age-group entering Sabarimala temple. A two-judge bench decrees (on April 5) that the prohibition by the Travancore Devaswom Board that administers the hill shrine does not violate either the Constitution or a pertinent 1965 Kerala law. Reason: the ban was for women (even before 1950, as per the testimony of the vintage temple’s chief priest) between the ages of 10 and 50, not as a class.

2006: A famed astrologer conducts a temple-centric assignment called ‘Devaprasnam’, and declares having found signs of a woman’s entry into the temple sometime ago.

2006: Soon, Kannada actress-politician Jayamala claims publicly that she had entered the precincts of Sabarimala in 1987 as a 28-year-old. Even touched the deity inside the sanctum sanctorum as part of a film shoot, she adds, stating this was done in connivance with the priest.

2006: The allegation led the Kerala government to probe the matter through its crime branch, but the case was later dropped.

2008: Kerala’s LDF government files an affidavit supporting a PIL filed by women lawyers questioning the ban on the entry of women in Sabarimala

2016: The India Young Lawyers Association files a PIL with the Supreme Court, contending that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules 1965 that states “Women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship” violates constitutional guarantees of equality, non-discrimination and religious freedom.

November 2016: Kerala's Left Front government favours the entry of women of all age groups filing an affidavit to the effect.

July 2018: Supreme Court Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing the PIL, questions the temple's authority to deny entry to a particular section of women. 

September 2018:  The Supreme Court on Friday allowed entry of women of all ages into the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala in Kerala. Banning entry of women to shrine is gender discrimination, said CJI Dipak Misra.

(With inputs from PTI)