NEW DELHI -- Three days after the Shani Shinganapur temple in Maharashtra was forced to revoke a centuries-old ban on women entering its inner sanctum, the Supreme Court has questioned why the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple does not allow the entry of girls and women who are going through their menstrual cycles.
"Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest?," the court said.
Women between the ages of 10 and 50 are barred from entering the temple in Kerala. Girls who have not started their period and women who have hit menopause are allowed into the temple.
While the temple's main deity Lord Ayyappan is revered as a celibate, mensturating women are regarded as unclean.
"Only girls below the age of 10 and ladies above the age of 50 are permitted to climb up the hills to Sabarimala is the practice that has been followed, in respect of Sabarimala pilgrimage. Ladies in the age group from 10 year to 50 years are not allowed to make pilgrimage from Pampa to Sabarimala. All ladies in the age group has to stay at Pampa." - Restrictions to Ladies.
"What is the basis on which women have been denied entry into temples. Anyone can worship God, he is omnipresent," the Supreme Court said on Monday.
The three-judge bench of Justice Dipak Misra, V. Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph are hearing a plea challenging the ban on menstruating women.
While senior advocate Indira Jaising argued that the ban on women constituted gender discrimination, K.K. Venugopal said that centuries-old traditions should be respected. "You can't look at the issue from the angle of worshipers alone. It has to be seen from the point of the God being worshiped," he said.
The Supreme Court asked the Sabarimala temple officials whether any tradition can override the Constitution. "What right does temple have to forbid women from entering any part of temple, please argue on bedrock of Constitution," the court said.
"We will now only be guided by the rationale under the Constitution. The gravity of this petition is that gender justice is endangered," the judges said.
The Supreme Court had also railed against the discrimination in January.
The next hearing is on April 13.
Last week, the Bombay High Court said that if men can enter the temple so can women, and it was the state's duty to protect the rights of women. "There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place," said Chief Justice D.H. Waghela.
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