All women may pray at Sabarimala

Prohibition amounts to smear on individual dignity, says SCBan is the result of hegemonic patriarchy in religion, says CJIIt is a form of untouchability, says Justice Chandrachud
The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion of 4:1 on Friday, lifted the centuries’ old prohibition on women from the age of menarche to enter the famed Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The main opinion, shared by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, said the prohibition reduced freedom of religion to a “dead letter”, and the ban was a smear on the individual dignity of women.
‘No place for dogma’
“Relation with the Creator is a transcending one. Physiological and biological barriers created by rigid social dogma have no place in this,” Chief Justice Misra wrote. The Chief Justice, who authored the opinion, held that the prohibition was founded on the notion that menstruating women are polluted and impure; that women, in this “procreative stage”, would be a deviation from the vow of celibacy taken by the male devotees of Lord Ayyappa for the pilgrimage. Besides, the deity in Sabarimala is himself a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ or an ‘eternal celibate.’ But Chief Justice Misra held that the ban was actually a product of hegemonic patriarchy in religion. “On the one side, we pray to goddesses and on the other, women of a certain age are considered impure. This ban exacts more purity from women than men. The ban is discriminatory.” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, in his separate but concurring opinion, was unsparing. To treat women as the children of a lesser God was to blink at the Constitution, he observed. He termed the social exclusion of women, based on menstrual status, a “form of untouchability.” The judge observed that notions of “purity and pollution” stigmatised individuals. To exclude women was derogatory to an equal citizenship. Justice Chandrachud dismissed the argument that the prohibition was in keeping with the form of the deity and the vow of celibacy of the devotees.
“It is assumed that the presence of women would deviate the celibacy and austerity observed by the devotees. Such a claim cannot be a constitutionally sustainable argument. Its effect is to impose the burden of a man’s celibacy on a woman and construct her as a cause for deviation from celibacy. This is then employed to deny access to spaces to which women are equally entitled,” Justice Chandrachud rationalised. “The notion that women cannot keep thevratham(vow of celibacy) is to stigmatise and stereotype them as “weak and lesser human beings”, Justice Chandrachud said. The Chief Justice agreed with the view that the “mere sight of women cannot affect one’s celibacy if one has taken oath of it. Otherwise such oath has no meaning.” Devotees did not go to the Sabarimala temple for taking the oath of celibacy but for seeking the blessings of Lord Ayyappa. Maintaining celibacy was only a ritual, Chief Justice Misra said.
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