Right to temple entry is an important right, especially considering the Young Indian Lawyer’s Association v State of Kerala case, famously referred to as the Sabrimala case. The Young Lawyer’s Association case is about the temple entry of women in the temple of Lord Ayyappa. According to the temple rules and local beliefs, due the celibacy of the deity Lord Ayyappa, menstruating women were not permitted to enter the temple. In a 2018 judgement the Apex Court held that the said practice was unconstitutional as it was in violation of women’s right to worship, it was discriminatory as it maligned women based on their biological sex and gender identity. However, the case has been given for a review petition and the final judgement has not been proclaimed yet. The 2018 judgement upheld the constitutional values as guaranteed under Article 14, 14. 21 and 25. The Court brought out the importance of the fundamental articles when stating that “The limited restriction on the entry of women during the notified age-group does not fall within the purview of Article 17 of the Constitution”, while also noting that the said practice is ultra vires of the Constitution.
Article 21 states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” This right is inclusive of right to choose. Extending the principle of right to choose to the domain of religion, it can be concluded that the Constitution enshrines on every citizen the right to choose the place of worship. Denying a person, the right to choose place of worship based on their gender identity is grossly discriminatory and is against constitutional ideals. It is clear from the bare provisions of the Article that the Constitutions extends to very citizen the right to choose their religion. Therefore, there also an extended right to choose place of worship. It is a person’s personal choice to choose their place of worship. The grounds for denial of this right are factual. Women not being extended the same right as men when the Constitution speaks about equality as a fundamental right even in 2021 is extremely shameful.
The practice of restricting the entry of women into the temple is grossly discriminatory in nature and is violative of Articles 14, 15, 21and 25 of the Constitution. In addition to this, it is also violative of the fundamental duty that is bestowed on the State under Article 51A(e) of the Constitution. Keeping in mind judicial precedents, international conventions that have been ratified, it is prima facie clear that the said practice is unconstitutional. The restriction of women’s entry is based on the celibacy of the deity Lord Ayyappa. This idea becomes invalid today where women are bestowed with equal rights. The right to choose place of worship of women is being curbed solely based on their gender identity. This is grossly discriminatory. Considering constitutional values, it is the duty of every citizen to help uphold the rights of all the members including the marginalised.
A major philosophical question that arose in the said case was the debate between individual rights and rights of a denomination. The court in the verdict by allowing women to enter the temple gave prominence to individual rights over the rights of a group. The idea of morality has been in recent times been interpreted by the judiciary to mean constitutionally morality and all the instances this jurisprudence theory has been invoked there has been importance placed over individual freedoms over that of the rights of group. Another philosophical question was the importance placed on rights, if two rights were in contravention at a given situation which one should be upheld? This was a major question. Here the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under Article 25 was in contravention to right to equality, right against discrimination and right to life as provided under Articles 14, 15 and 21. The court placed more importance on the latter thereby upholding its view in the Shah Bano Begum Case, the Shayara Begum case also which placed prominence on right to equality, right against discrimination and right to life over the right to freedom of religion during their contravention.
It is also to be noted that the right to freedom of religion is not absolute in nature. However, there are certain duties that each citizen owes. With every right bestowed on a person, there is a corresponding privilege they received and duty that the owe. Nobody can act in such a way that they do not perform the duty. It is pertinent to note that restricting women’s entry to temples if anything is a clear-cut violation of the duty and sheer ignorance for the privilege that is granted to citizens.
A major doctrine that the Court analysed for arriving at the decision was that of the ‘Essential practices test’ which was put forth in the case of Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. LakshmindraThirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt to determine what practice in a religion can be deemed to be essential or not. If the practice is integral to the practice of the religion, then it would be brought under the ambit of an essential practice. An essential practice could be followed even if it was in contravention to existing statutory provisions. Rationality of secularism in essentiality should be analysed. Mere practice of a custom does not deem it essential. The Court on analysis of the said jurisprudence concluded that the practice of restricting the entry of women into the temple at Sabrimala was violative of their constitutional rights thereby guaranteeing them right to temple entry.
The Court’s decision to provide women the right to enter the temple at Sabrimala is an instance where constitutional morality has been inculcated in our political vocabulary and individual rights have been liberated from the choking hold of group rights. This has been an extremely progressive step in the feminist jurisprudence. The rights of women which though are constitutionally guaranteed have been held away from women for so long are finally being given to them. This is an incredibly progressive step towards empowerment of women in its entirety. Every individual has a right to place of worship, that is constitutionally guaranteed. Any violation of the said right is in contravention to constitutional morality and is subversive of the ideals of autonomy, liberty, and dignity.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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