'Can't Use Religion to Deny Women Right to Worship', Rules Supreme Court

A Constitution bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra pronounced its judgment on the prohibition on women's entry in Kerala's famous temple.

In Thursday's judgment, Misra said: "The law and the society are bestowed with the Herculean task to act as levellers".

Four judges agreed with the verdict but Justice Indu Malhotra disagreed with the rest of them.

The order has not come as a surprise - Chief Justice Dipak Misra had previously questioned the validity of the practice, saying that since God does not discriminate between genders, who are we to do that? Devotees of Lord Ayyappa are Hindus, don't constitute a separate religious denomination. And if so, would it not play foul of Articles 14 and 15 (3) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women on the ground of sex?

The supreme court has been called into action because of a significant rise in public interest litigation in recent years after heal-dragging by successive Indian governments on decisions relating to social issues. Shiv Sena will also ask other Hindu outfits to file a review period against the verdict, party officials said at a press conference on Saturday, according to local news channel Manorama News.

He said the popular notion about morality can be offensive to dignity of others and exclusion of women because she menstruates is utterly unconstitutional. In the past month, the country's top court legalized homosexuality, decriminalized adultery and clipped the scope of a government biometric program, bowing to demands from privacy activists.

The practices, including both the restriction and 41-day Vratham (penance) to be observed by a male devotee, are considered to be essential or integral to the temple.

The campaign to repeal the ban on women entering the temple gathered momentum in 2016 after a protest by female students. The temple barred women of a "menstruating age"- defined as between the ages of 10 and 50 - from entering.

The Sabarimala shrine, located northeast of Pathanamthitta in a tiger reserve, is dedicated to the Hindu deity Ayyappan.

Two years ago, a Mumbai court ruled that it was the fundamental right of women to enter any place of worship that allows men access, and that the state should protect this right. The archaic law was also seen as discriminatory toward women because it gave a husband the right to prosecute his wife's lover but did not give women the same right.

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.