The Supreme Court has pronounced its verdict on a clutch of pleas challenging the ban on entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had reserved its judgement on August 1 after hearing the matter for eight days. The bench, which also comprised Justice R F Nariman, Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra, had earlier said that the constitutional scheme prohibiting exclusion has "some value" in a "vibrant democracy".
The top court's verdict would deal with the petitions filed by petitioners Indian Young Lawyers Association and others.
The Kerala government, which has been changing its stand on the contentious issue of women of the menstrual age group entering the Sabarimala temple, had on July 18 told the Supreme Court that it now favoured their entry.
Let's look at the 27-year-old struggle:
• The entry of women to Sabarimala was restricted based on the Impugned Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places Of Public Worship (Authorisation Of Entry) Act, 1965 (Act). This practice was in force traditionally for around 800 years.
1991: Kerala High Court upholds an age-old restriction on women of a certain age-group entering the 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. Reason: the ban was for women (even before 1950, as per the testimony of the vintage temple's chief priest) between the ages of 10 and 50, not as a class.
2006: A famed astrologer conducts a temple-centric assignment called 'Devaprasnam', and declares having found signs of a woman's entry into the temple sometime ago.
2006: Soon, Kannada actress-politician Jayamala claimed publicly that she had entered the precincts of Sabarimala in 1987 as a 28-year-old. She also claimed she even touched the deity inside the sanctum sanctorum as part of a film shoot and this was done in 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.
2006: The India Young Lawyers Association files a PIL with the Supreme Court, challenging the rules issued by the State of Kerala and notifications issued by Travancore Devaswom Board that prevented entry of women between the ages of 10-50 years into the temple on the grounds that such rules and notifications are violative of the Right to practise religion (Article 25) and the Right to Equality (Articles 14 and 15).
2007: The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, led by V S Achuthanandan, supports the PIL filed by women lawyers questioning the ban on the entry of women in Sabarimala.
2008: The Supreme Court observed that any restriction that amounts to the violation of Constitutional rights will be struck down.
2011-16: The United Democratic Front (UDF) government takes a U-turn. Rejecting the previous government stand, the UDF government said the tradition must be followed and the bar on entry for women between the ages of 10-50 years should be continued.
2016: The India Young Lawyers Association contended that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules 1965 that stated: "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", violated constitutional guarantees of equality, non-discrimination and religious freedom.
Nov 2016: Once again, when the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government came back to power, Kerala changed its stand and returned to the VS government's policy. It now favoured the entry of women of all age groups filing an affidavit to the effect.
Oct 13, 2017: The three-judge bench formed five "significant" questions to decide the merits of the case and referred the matter to five-judge Constitution Bench.
2017-18: The constitution bench examines whether the exclusion of women based on biological factors amounts to "discrimination" and violates the very core of Articles 14 (right to equality), 15 (prohibition of discrimination) and 17 (untouchability) and not protected by 'morality' as used in Articles 25 (freedom to practice and propagation of religion) and 26 (Freedom to manage religious affairs) of the Constitution.
July 17, 2018: The Supreme Court begins hearing on whether prohibiting the entry of women in Sabarimala temple on grounds of biological factors was discriminatory and violative of the fundamental rights under the Constitution.
2018: Supreme Court Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing the PIL, questions the temple's authority to deny entry to a particular section of women.
September 28, 2018: Supreme Court allows entry of women of all age groups to the Sabarimala temple.