Sabarimala legal battle | Timeline

Legal battle for Sabarimala
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2006: Indian Young Lawyers' Association files a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking entry of women devotees of child-bearing age (defined as girls or women between the ages of 10 and 50) to Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala. The petition also urges the court to declare Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, which prohibits menstruating women from entering temples, as unconstitutional.

January 11, 2016: A three-judge bench of justices Dipak Mishra, Pinaki Chandra Ghose and N V Rama begins hearing in the case. Justice Mishra observes that it was possible that women had right of entry to Sabarimala temple at one point of time and that the ban might have gained currency in the intervening years and it is perhaps time to review it.

January 15: Naushad Ahmed Khan, president of the Indian Young Lawyers Association, approaches the court seeking to withdraw the petition citing threats against him. The three-judge bench turns him down.

February 7: The UDF government, led by Oommen Chandy, files an affidavit saying the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 into the temple was a matter of religion. It also stresses that final decision on such a matter rests with the priests. The affidavit says the restriction was in line with the unique idol concept of the temple and was therefore an integral part of the right to practice religion. The state also withdraws an earlier affidavit filed by the LDF government in November 2007, which had supported entry of women into the temple.

October 7: A group of women devotees, who called themselves 'Right to Bleed' campaigners, moves the Supreme Court seeking the preservation of temple customs and claims they were ready to wait till they reach 50 to enter the temple.

November 7: The LDF government, led by Pinarayi Vijayan, tells the court that it favoured the entry of women of all age groups in Sabarimala temple, contradicting the state's earlier stance. The government said it will stick to its original response filed in 2007, when the LDF was in power.

Legal battle for Sabarimala
The LDF government, led by Pinarayi Vijayan, tells the court that it favoured the entry of women of all age groups in Sabarimala temple, contradicting the state's earlier stance.

October 13, 2017: The Sabarimala issue is referred to a Constitution bench. Five questions were referred to the bench. One, whether the exclusionary practice which is based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to discrimination. Two, whether the practice of excluding such women constitutes an “essential religious practice”. Three, whether Ayyappa Temple has a denominational character. Four, whether Rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules permits 'religious denomination' to ban entry of women between the age of 10 to 50 years? Five, whether rule 3(b) of of 1965 Rules contradict the 1965 Act.

July 18, 2018: The Constitution bench begins hearing the Sabarimala case. Advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the Happy to Bleed petitioners, introduces the untouchability argument. “Prohibition of women entry is a form of untouchability. The sole basis of restriction is menstruation of women. To keep away menstruating women is a form of untouchability. Menstruating women are seen as polluted,” she argues.

Legal battle for Sabarimala
Ponnambalamedu, where the ritualistic Makarajyothi is lit every year as part of the Makaravilakku festival at Sabarimala temple.

July 24, 2018: Travancore Devaswom Board counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi argues that women are physically incapable of observing the 41-day penance. In response, Justice D Y Chandrachud observes that abstinence is a state of mind and to restrain women from pursuing their right to worship on physiological grounds would be unconstitutional. When the TDB counsel says the restriction was in place from time immemorial, Justice Nariman brings his notice to an affidavit filed by the board in the High Court in 1991 that said the restriction was only for the 'mandalam', 'makaravilakku' and Vishu period and the temple was open to all when it opens for five days every month. “What happens to the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa in those 5 days? Is it that the idol vanishes on those days?”, he asks.

Legal battle for Sabarimala
On July 24, Travancore Devaswom Board counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that women are physically incapable of observing the 41-day penance

September 28: Supreme Court lifts the ban on entry of women of child-bearing age into Sabarimala by a 4-1 majority. It rules that Ayyappa devotees did not constitute a separate denomination. Importantly, it strikes down rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules 1965, which prohibits the entry of menstruating women into any temples in the state. In her dissent, Justice Indu Malhotra argues that issues of deep religious sentiments should not be ordinarily be interfered by the court. She also says the notion of rationality should not be inserted into matters of religion.

Legal battle for Sabarimala
On September 28, Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry of women of child-bearing age into Sabarimala by a 4-1 majority.

October 8: Nair Service Society files a review petition against the September 28 verdict arguing that the court should not have entertained the litigation questioning the practices of Sabarimala temple, when women worshippers themselves were not opposed to such practices. “In the present case, subsequent events that transpired after the judgment of which judicial notice may be taken, clearly demonstrate that overwhelmingly large section of women worshippers are supporting the custom of prohibiting entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50,” says the NSS petition.

October 16-22: Violent incidents at base camps of Sabarimala, Nilakkal and Pamba, as temple opens for the first time after Supreme Court verdict. Police clash with protesters after they blocked vehicles and heckled woman journalists and stopped women devotees from heading towards Sabarimala

November 5: Sabarimala goes under security cover ahead of the temple opening for Chithira Thirunal Aatta Vishesham.

November 5: Anju, a native of Cherthala reaches Pamba along with husband and two children in a bid to visit the shrine. She turns away after talks with the police.  

November 13: The Supreme Court refused to stay its September 28 verdict but agreed to hear in open court on January 22 a batch of review petitions in the matter.

January 2: Bindu and Kanakadurga, aged 44 and 42, were the first to step into the temple after the top court's historic judgment lifted the ban on entry of girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age

January 3: Widespread violence across Kerala during the hartal called by Sabarimala Karma Samiti

January 22: The top court says it may not start hearing the pleas, seeking review of Sabarimala verdict till January 30 as one of the judges of the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, was on medical leave.

February 6: SC reserves judgment in Sabarimala review petitions. Advocates have been given seven days' time to file the rest of the arguments in writing.

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