Saswat Singhdeo

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has lifted the ban on entry of women into the Sabarimala temple of Kerala.

While reading out the verdict, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said, "The practice of barring women in age group of 10-50 to go inside the temple is violative of constitutional principles."

"Right to worship is given to all devotees and there can be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Devotees of Lord Ayyappa are Hindus, don't constitute a separate religious denomination. No physiological & biological factor can be given legitimacy if it doesn't pass the test of conditionality. Restrictions put by Sabarimala temple can't be held as essential religious practice," the CJI added.

Earlier, many petitioners had challenged the practice of prohibiting women in 10 to 50 age group from entering the  temple having the deity of Lord Ayyappa in a "naishtika brahmacharya" (perennial celibate).

The hearing on the challenge to the practice by the five-judge constitution bench had seen Kerala government asserting that the Sabarimala temple does not belong to a religious denomination and it could not invoke the protection of Article 26 of the Constitution to save the practice of prohibiting women in the age group of 10 to 50 years from entering the temple.

The matter, which witnessed shifting stands of the Kerala government with the change of governments, saw the Left Front government telling the court that Lord Jagannath's temple, Kash Vishwnath temple and similar religious places are not denominational temples but the Ramakrishna Mission was a denominational entity.

On the conclusion of the hearing, the constitution bench had made it clear that it would decide the issue based on constitutional provisions and not by the statues enacted by the state -- Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institution Act, 1950 and Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965.

Besides Chief Justice Dipak Misra who headed the constitution bench, other judges on the bench were Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra.

Parties supporting the practice of barring the women in 10-50 years age group from entering the temple had told the court: "It is a unique Ayyappa temple following a religious practice as protected by Article 25(1) on the strength of the religious practice based on the religious belief from time immemorial."

Referring to the antiquity of practice, the court was told that the temple could invoke Article 25(1) to protect the practice, and since its management was entrusted to a board by a statute, it was duty-bound to protect a practice based on religious belief.

The hearing had also seen the defenders of practice asserting that the deity of Lord Ayyappa in a "naishtika brahmacharya" too had the rights which should be respected.

(With Agency inputs)