The Supreme Court is hearing a petition related to the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years to the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, which has been banned till now.
Advocate V K Biju, appearing for philosopher and author Rahul Easwar favouring the current restrictions, placed before the bench hearing the case extracts from Commonwealth debates. Biju submitted that the restriction has got nothing to do with menstruation, but with the celibate character of the Deity. He refers to Swami Vivekananda on the practice of Naishtika Brahmacharya and the restrictions that apply to the said practice.
Reading out extracts from the petition to show that the it is based on news reports authored by a few journalists, including Barkha Dutt, Biju said nowhere does the petition provide evidence of personal knowledge of the practice of the temple or its basis.
Drawing the bench’s attention to the fourth paragraph of first affidavit filed by State Government, where it pleaded ignorance of the basis of practice, Biju said that the government is in no position to take an informed position. He says that the temple receives Rs 300 crore as devotees' contributions and Rs 8 lakh from the State, and yet the petitioner wants the temple to be treated as a State institution. Biju then concluded his submissions.
Advocate Gopal Shankaranarayan, making his submissions on behalf of another intervenor, explained the reason for the Sabarimala temple attracting the definition of public worship under the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965. He said that the definition of religious denomination is unique and should be construed in a way which does justice to the nature and history of the temple.
He also said that allowing the petition would result in a can of worms across the board to be open across all faiths. Shankaranarayan told the court that the Constitution does not take a categorical position on exclusion regarding entry to religious places. When the bench asked on the application of Article 17 to Sabarimala temple, Shankaranarayan said that if a woman was to be excluded on the basis of caste, that's the only basis for applying Article 17. He argued that he accepted the arguments put forth by advocate J Sai Deepak on the meaning of religious denomination. He said that devotees who have faith in the temple and observe its practices qualify as a religious denomination.
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