Ahead of the opening of the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala for a five-day monthly ritual starting July 16, a longstanding controversy over the entry of women into its premises has been revived.
In an unexpected move, the recently elected Left Democratic Front (LDF) government said before the Supreme Court on Monday that it would stand by the affidavit filed by its predecessor, the Congress-led United Democratic Front regime, to regulate entry of women into the temple.
Following an archaic custom, the temple does not allow women between the ages of 10 and 50, those who are in "menstruating age", to step inside its premises. As far back as 1991, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court had upheld the restriction, which was challenged by lawyer Indira Jaising, representing members of the Happy to Bleed campaign.
With LDF's victory in the May assembly elections, there were speculations that the ruling government would take a proactive stance to counter the age-old discrimination against women. In 2007, UDF had argued for the removal of the ban, which was opposed by the Congress-led UDF. Now, this position has been reversed, perhaps in a nod to the Bhartiya Janata Party's electoral rise in the state.
On 11 January 2016, an earlier bench of the court had questioned the temple's authority to impose such a ban unless it was allowed by a constitutional right. The current bench, headed by Justice Dipak Misra, has categorically called such a policy discriminatory, stating it is in violation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. At the same time, it has conceded that the same document allows for the freedom to profess, practice and manage a religion.
The court indicated that the matter may now be referred to a five-judge Constitutional bench after it has passed a detailed order.