Justice Indu Malhotra in her dissenting judgement in the Sabarimala case has displayed the balance and restraint required by all judges of a supreme court. I regret I cannot say the same for the judges in the majority. By interfering with the centuries-old practice of the Sabarimala temple they have opened up a Pandora's box and embarked on a perilous, unpredictable path of hyper-activism, which will be an albatross hanging on the necks of judges in India.
India is a country with tremendous diversity and plurality, as Justice Malhotra has noted. There are thousands of temples, mosques, dargahs etc each having its own peculiar practices and rituals. Courts should be extremely reluctant to interfere in this. As Justice Malhotra has rightly pointed out, religion is a matter of faith, and it is for each sect or denomination to decide what are its essential practices.
In most mosques in India, Muslim women are not allowed, and they have to pray at home. Even in the very few where they are allowed, e.g. in Jama Masjid, Delhi, they cannot pray along with the men, but in separate enclosures. Will the Supreme Court display the same bravery and order that Muslim women must be allowed to stand next to Muslim men during prayers in mosques? Or is the Court's bravery selective and confined to Hindus?
Markandey Katju is former judge of the Supreme Court of India and former chairman of the Press Council of India.
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