Kerala Law Minister A K Balan has ruled out the state government allowing entry to women of reproductive age into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, saying there is a “de facto” stay of the Supreme Court order of 28 September last year.
On Sunday, Balan was reacting to media questions on 10 women from Andhra Pradesh of reproductive age (aged between 10 and 50 years) being turned away from Sabarimala by the authorities.
The women were a part of a group of pilgrims on a trip to south India to visit many temples. Pathanamthitta collector P B Nooh told the media that the women decided not to try and enter the Ayyappa temple on their own after getting to know of the temple rituals.
The Kerala government's stand is in line with what Supreme Court lawyer Sai J Deepak, who represented the Pandalam Royal Family, ‘People for Dharma’ and Chetna in Sabarimala had told Swarajya last week.
On Thursday (14 November), the Supreme Court ruled that it was referring petitions seeking review of its 28 September 2018 judgement allowing women of reproductive age to enter the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple to a larger seven-judge bench.
Soon after the ruling, Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that the state government was under no legal compulsion to provide protection to women activists who want to enter the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple this year.
Surendran told the media that women activists wanting to enter the Ayyappa shrine will have to get an access order from the Supreme Court.
The Kerala Law Minister said the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) had a new problem in that though de jure there was no stay, de facto there was a stay.
(De jure means something that is in accordance with the law and de facto means something that is the actual state of affairs which is not mandated by law.)
Balan said the 2018 order had, in effect, been stayed, though the Supreme Court had not mentioned it.
This synchronises with one of the views on the judgement that since the apex court has referred its ruling to a larger bench, the September 2018 order doesn’t hold good.
The other view is that last year’s ruling is still valid. Barring women of reproductive age from entering the temple will be possible only after the seven-judge bench takes up the case and gives an interim stay or hears the petitions and rule on them.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has also said that the state government needs more clarity on the Supreme Court ruling, and he would consult legal experts.
There are reasons why the Kerala government has taken a stand contrary to what it did last year when it insisted on implementing the ruling by force. Swarajya had explained the reasons on the LDF compulsions on 16 November. (Read here)
On Saturday (16 November), Devaswom Minister Surendran held a high-level meeting of officials at Sabarimala to review the facilities being provided to pilgrims during the two-month-long Mandala Puja season.
The pilgrimage or the Mandala Puja season began on 15 November (Friday) and will go on until 21 January 2020. There will, however, be a two-day break during 28-29 December.
Until Sunday evening, a little over 70,000 people have visited the Sabarimala Ayyappan shrine, some of them braving heavy rains that lashed the region last evening.
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