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The Supreme Court said:
No temple or governing body can bar a woman from entering the famous Sabarimala shrine in Kerala where lakhs of devotees throng annually to worship.
When the Devaswom Board countered that the prohibition was based on custom followed for the past half century, court asked what proof the Board had to show that women did not enter the sanctum sanctorum over 1500 years ago.
Court observed that the Constitution rejects discrimination on the basis of age, gender and caste.
The petition filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association and five women lawyers seeking a direction to allow entry of women into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple without age restriction.
Women in the age group 10-50 are not allowed entry. The apex court had issued notice in the case way back in 2006.
The petition had contended that women, aged between 10 and 50, touching the idol was considered an act of desecration.
An attempt was made to prosecute Kannada actor Jaimala on the plea of desecration following her disclosure that she entered the sanctum sanctorum and touched the idol in 1987. The priests conducted a special ritual to purify the idol.
The Kerala High Court dismissed the charges filed by police in the controversial Sabarimala “astrological finding” case, which included Kannada actress Jaimala among the accused in 2012.
The ban was enforced under Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965
It states “women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship”.
The Kerala High Court had upheld the ban in 1991 and directed the Devaswom Board to implement it.
The petition contended that discrimination in matters of entry into temples was neither a ritual nor ceremony associated with Hindu religion. Such discrimination was totally anti-Hindu.
The religious denomination could only restrict entry into the sanctum sanctorum and could not ban entry into the temple, making a discrimination on the basis of sex.
It had sought quashing of the Rule contending that the ban was violative of Articles 14 (equality before law), 25 and 26 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution. They wanted guidelines laid down in matters of gender inequality in religious practices at places of worship.
It is a Hindu pilgrimage centre located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Perunad grama panchayat in Kerala.
It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with an estimated over 100 million devotees visiting every year.
Sabarimala is believed to be the place where the Hindu god Ayyappanmeditated after killing the powerful demoness Mahishi.
Sabarimala is linked to Hindu pilgrimage, predominantly for men of all ages.
Females who menstruate (usually between the ages of approximately 12 and 50) are not allowed to enter the temple, since the story attributed to Ayyappa prohibits the entry of the women in the menstrual age group. This is because Ayyappan is a Bramhachari (celibate).
Administration and legal duties is managed by Travancore Devasvom Board, an affiliate authority of Government of Kerala.