Indian Young Lawyers Association vs The State Of KeralaCase Details

  • Court Name- Supreme Court of India
  • Citation- (2019) 11 SCC 1; 2018 (8) SCJ 609
  • Decided On- 28.09.2018
  • Hon’ble Judges/Coram- Justice DipakMisra, A.M. Khanwilkar, RohintonFaliNariman, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

Parties of the case:-

  1. Indian Young Lawyers Association (Petitioner)
  2. Travancore Devasom Board (Respondent)
  3. State of Kerala (Respondent)
  4. Pandalam Royal Family (Respondent)
  5. Chief Thanthri – Sabarimala Temple (Respondent)

Background of the case:-

Sabarimala SreeDharmasastha Temple is atemplecomplex located at Sabarimala inside  Periyar Tiger reserve in Kerela. It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with an estimate of between 17 million and 50 million devotees visiting every year.  The temple is dedicated to the Hindu celibate deityAyyappan, who according to belief is the son ofShivaand feminine incarnation of Vishnu.

The deity in Sabarimala temple is in the form of a Yogi or a Bramchari according to the Thanthri of the temple. The God in Sabarimala is in the form of a NaisthikBramchari, and this is the reason why young women are not permitted to offer prayers in the temple. Since the deity is in the form of a NaisthikBrahmachari, it is therefore believed that young women should not offer worship in the temple so that even the slightest deviation from celibacy and austerity observed by the deity is not caused by the presence of such women. 

The temple is open for worship only during the days of Mandalapooja,Makara Sankrantiand MahaVishuva Sankranti, and the first five days of eachMalayalam month. The pilgrims have to observe celibacy for 41 days before going to Sabarimala. They are also required to strictly follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, refrain from alcohol, not use any profanity and allow the hair and nails to grow without cutting. They are expected to bath twice in a day and visit the local temples regularly. They wear black or blue clothes, do not shave until the completion of the pilgrimage, and smear vibhuti or sandal paste on their forehead.

The exclusion of (a class of) women from the Sabarimala Temple was justified on the basis of ancient custom, which was sanctioned by Rule 3(b), framed by the Government under the authority of the 1965  Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorisation of Entry Act). Section 3 of the Act required that places of public worship be open to all sections and classes of Hindus, subject to special rules for religious denominations. Rule 3(b), however, provided for the exclusion of “women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship.” These pieces of legislation, in turn, were juxtaposed against constitutional provisions such as Article 25(1) (freedom of worship), Article 26 (freedom of religious denominations to regulate their own practices), and Articles 14 and 15(1) (equality and nondiscrimination).

In response to aPILfiled in 1991, theKerala High Courthad judged that therestriction of entry of womenages 10-50 to the temple was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial, and it directed the Devaswom Board to uphold the customary traditions of the temple.

However, on 28 September 2018, theSupreme Court of Indiaoverturned the restriction on the entry of women, declaring it unconstitutional and discriminatory. The Supreme Court had ruled that women, of all age groups, can enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The apex court in a 4:1 majority said that the temple practice violates the rights of Hindu women and that banning entry of women to shrine is gender discrimination.

On 2 January 2019, two women under the age of 50 finally entered the shrine for the first time since the Supreme Court verdict, after attempts by many others failed due to protests by devotees.

Facts of the case:-

The Sabarimala temple is one of Kerala’s most famous temples and it is dedicated to the worshipof  Lord Ayyappa, who is also referred to as ‘Dharmashastha’ or Lord of Dharma and is worshipped as a ‘NaishtikaBramhachari’ or a celibate for life. Therefore, as per a notification by the Devaswom Board that manages the temple, women belonging to the menstruating age are not permitted to enter the temple. The Sabarimala temple is managed by the Travancore Devaswom Board. The centuries-old restriction that restricts women of menstruating age from temple entry had  been challenged now and then.

1991:  Kerala High Court upheld an age-old restriction on women of a certain age-group entering Sabarimala temple. A two-judge bench decreed (on April 5) that the prohibition by the Travancore Devaswom Board that administers the hill shrine does not violate either the Constitution or a pertinent 1965 Kerala law.

2006:  A famed astrologer conducted a temple-centric assignment called ‘Devaprasnam’, and declared having found signs of a woman’s entry into the temple sometime ago. Soon, a well known  Kannada actress-politician Jayamala claimed publicly that she had entered the precincts of Sabarimala in 1987 as a 28-year-old. Even she claimed to have proudly touched the deity inside the sanctum sanctorum as part of a film shoot, adding doing connivance with the priest.

2006:  The allegation led the Kerala government to probe the matter through its crime branch, but the case was later dropped.

2008:  Kerala’s LDF government filed an affidavit supporting a PIL filed by women lawyers questioning the ban on the entry of women in Sabarimala

2016:  The India Young Lawyers Association filed a PIL with the Supreme Court, contending that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules 1965 that states “Women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship” violates constitutional guarantees of equality, non-discrimination and religious freedom.

November 2016:  Kerala’s Left Front government favoured the entry of women of all age groups filing an affidavit to the effect.

28 September, 2018:  The hon’ble Supreme Court of India, by a 4:1verdict, granted women, of all age groups, entry into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, breaking the temple’s age-old tradition of restricting menstruating women from entering its premises.

The five-judge bench, headed by then CJI DipakMisra with Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra pronounced the verdict, with Malhotra dissenting. 

Issues Raised:-

The issues raised in this case were:-

  1. The rule that disallows women from entering temples for the sake of custom was challenged so as to prove that it violates Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution on the grounds of sex.
  2. Whether the practice constitutes an ‘essential religious practice’ under Article 25?
  3. Whether a religious institution could assert its claim to do so under the right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion?
  4. Whether the exclusionary practice based on a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to ‘discrimination’?
  5. Whether Sabarimala temple had a denominational character?

Petitioners Arguments

The main arguments contended on Petitioner’s behalf were:

It was stated that not allowing women to worship in the temple does not form an essential part of Hindu religion.

Sabarimala is managed by Travancore Devaswom Board which receives public funds, hence it cannot be deemed as separate religious domination. For this court cited the “Shirur Mutt case”, in which prerequisites for a religious denomination are given. These are:

  1. Having its own property
  2. Having its distinct identity
  3. Having its own set of followers
  4. Having its own set of beliefs and practises.
  5. Having its own hierarchy of administration with no outside interference and control

Respondent’s argument

1)These restrictions can’t be challenged as they are on the basis of religion and traditions of the deity of the temple.

2)It was argued that Lord Ayappa in the temple is a celibate and should be treated as a person.

And as a person, Lord Ayappa’s Right to Privacy under Article 21 should be protected. 3)It was argued that the entry of women of the age 10-50 years of age, which is their menstruating age, is in contrast with the celibate nature of the Lord Ayappa.

4)It was also contended that it is not physiologically possible for women to seek 41-day penance. 5)It was contended that this prohibition is the very crux of their belief and forms an essential part of this religion. 

6)It was also contended by them that Article 15(2) is not applied to religious institutions.

Judgement (Ratio decidendi and Obiter Dictum)

Ratio decidendi

‘Ratio decidendi’ is the rule of law on which judicial decision is based. It is legally binding.

On 28th September 2018, the Court delivered its verdict in this case by 4:1 majority which held that the restriction of women in Sabarimala Temple is unconstitutional. It held that the practice violated the fundamental rights to equality, liberty and freedom of religion, Articles 14, 15, 19(1), 21 and 25(1). It struck down Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act as unconstitutional. Rule 3(b) allowed for Hindu denominations to exclude women from public places of worship, if the exclusion was based on ‘custom’.

The Apex Court has allowed entry of women of all age groups to the Sabarimala Temple, and held that “Devotion can not be subjected to Gender Discrimination.”

Obiter dictum

‘Obiter dictum’ is a judge’s expression of opinion uttered in court or in a written judgement, but not essential to the decision and therefore not legally binding as a precedent.

In this case, the Court ruled thus:

“We have no doubt in saying that such practice infringes the right of women to enter a temple and freely practice Hindu religion”.

“Devotion can not be subjected to Gender Discrimination”.

Hon’ble Chief Justice of India stated in his Judgement that religion is a way of life linked to the dignity of an individual and patriarchal practices based on the exclusion of one gender in favour of another could not be allowed to infringe upon the fundamental freedom to practice and profess one’s religion.

Reason of the Verdict

By the majority judgment, it is amply clear that the underlying basic principle that the Constitution of India is supreme. The hon’ble Chief Justice and his companion judges in different words unequivocally upheld that even in matters of religious faith, Governments, religious and other institutions and the people of India are bound by the constitution of the country.

This historic verdict supersedes all other laws of the land and customary practices and beliefs and traditions of different religions/faith which are contrary to it. Thus, on the one hand, it proclaims the triumph of women’s rights towards equality with men and on the other it establishes the supremacy of Constitutional morality over customary laws, rituals and traditions. The far reaching socio-economic and political consequences of this historic verdict will unfold themselves as the country moves forward.

Critical Analysis of the Judgement

The rationality of any religion or a particular ritual is mostly determined and propagated by the male leaders and members in the group. In order to perpetuate their domination, they tend to devise customs, often by the irresponsible interpretation of traditional texts, which consequently results in the subordination of women.

Justice Malhotra sets a dangerous precedent by stating that courts should not delve into the rationality of religious practices. One should not forget that if it were not for the judiciary’s activism, the rigid societal structures would have still clawed on to the unbending orthodoxy.  A prerequisite of this judgment, however, would have been to find ways to get support from men and women equally. 

The main issue of this case was the complete violance of the article 14, 15, and 25 as the women between the age group 10-50 were restricted from entering the temple and the judgement clearly shows that to allow the women af all ages in the temple by crossing the society mythology barriers. By the judgement it is clear that there cannot be bias to reach religion and divine. Climbing and hardness cannot be affected by the attribute of devotion. Proliferate freedom of religion to act and equality and discard bias on the sex basis has been given in this judgment. The judgement totally throw away the inequality present in our Indian society. 

On August 4,2006,the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a plea in the Supreme Court for the entry of women between the age group of 10-50 years at the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala which were restricted. On September 28,2018,the Supreme Court passed a verdict that ensures the the entry of women of all the age groups including the restricted age group also.

Aishwarya Says:

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.


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In the year 2021, we wrote about 1000 Inspirational Women In India, in the year 2022, we would be featuring 5000 Start Up Stories.

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