Board for Sabarimala Temple Withdraws From Challenging the Ban on Women
The Travancore Devaswom Board, in Kerala, India, withdrew from challenging the Supreme Court’s decision to allow women entry to the Sabarimala Temple, on Wednesday. The board had been delaying the implementation of the court’s decision since September when the initial decision had been made.
Citing that legislating the tradition of banning women in 1991 was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled 4-1 in lifting the ban. The court also stated that the ban opposed the constitutional rights to equality and worship.
Indu Malhotra, the only judge to disagree with the decision on the panel, argued, "What constitutes essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide, not for the court ... notions of rationality cannot be brought into religion,"
Supreme Court judges had reviewed over 50 petitions against this decision but, the Travancore Devaswom Board’s support of the decision has been the most impactful. This board is one of five in Kerala that overlooks the operation of temples and assures that each is in accordance with traditional ritual and custom.
"Everyone is entitled to enter the temple. Any practice has to be dominant with the view of equality," stated the Travancore Devaswom Board.
Historically, the Sabarimala temple has refused entry to women of the menstruating age. Devotees of the temple believe that the deity of the temple, Lord Ayyappa, who is venerated for his oath to celibacy, should not have women present in the temple.
Politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, have characterized the court’s decision as a betrayal to tradition.
“The government has not shown least respect to the sentiments of the devotees. The people of Kerala will give befitting reply,” explained Sreedharan Pillai, the state president of the BJP in Kerala.
Along with the BJP, Congress has also supported the ban, stating that courts should not interfere with traditional practices.
Only four women have been able to travel to the temple since September. Protesters from various religious groups have made it dangerous to make the five km walk to the temple. Mobs have been throwing stones at women and damaging property.
The first two women, Kavitha Jagdal and Rehana Fathima, were guarded by over 100 policemen on their attempt to enter the temple but, were turned away at the entry of the temple due to escalating tensions with protesters.
The second pair of women, Bindu Ammini and Kanakadurga, also traveled to the temple with the aid of policemen. The women were successful in entering the temple last month. Ammini explained that once inside Sabarimala, no other pilgrim seemed to care that women were present in the temple.
"We have no fear. Me and Kanakadurga broke the ban because we had to uphold the constitutional values of this country. No one can stop women now," said Ammini.