The Sabarimala temple in Kerala has been known for banning the entry of women from ages 10-50
The reason for this practice is that while crores of Ayyappa temples over the country allow women worshippers of all ages, in Sabarimala the Lord is said to be a ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’ or an ‘Eternal Celibate.’
But in 2006, the temple was pulled up for propagating gender inequality through this ban
Naushad Ahmed Khan, the President of the Young Lawyers’ Association filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging this ban, on grounds of gender discrimination and violating women’s rights. However, at that time it was decided that the ban would be upheld.
In November 2015, the person in charge of maintaining the shrine made a pretty offensive statement
Prayar Gopalkrishnan, Chief of the Travancore Devaswom Board (the people who maintain the shrine), said that women would be permitted to enter the temple when a machine to check whether it’s the ‘right time’ was invented. This remark irked a lot of people for its sexist nature. As a consequence, the #HappyToBleed movement was launched, to bring awareness to the fact the menstruation was not ‘impure’, as many orthodox Indians believe. As this movement gained momentum in the public sphere, the courts took notice again.
In the January 2016, a hearing was held on the matter by the Supreme Court, prompting a renewed discussion on the topic
The Apex Court questioned the constitutionality of the ban. Clearly a violation of women’s rights, the SC questioned the rationale behind the prohibition and suggested that every woman had the right to choose whether or not she wanted to enter the temple.
So, where does the Kerala Government stand on all of this? Well, we’re not sure (and apparently, neither are they)
The Kerala Government has in the last 10 years flip-flopped a lot over this issue. In 2008, the then ruling LDF Government filed an affidavit in the SC supporting women’s entry into the temple. However, the successive governments, led by the Congress, opposed this stance and defended the ban saying it was matter of religion and devotion, something that cannot be changed by judicial decisions. Now the LDF is back in power and while they followed the Congress’ lead for some time, as of November 2016, they’ve decided to support the entry of women into the temple once again.
In February 2017, the Supreme Court asked a constitutional bench to take the call on this issue. What it decides on the matter could be instrumental in protecting women’s rights in relation to religion (all the ones followed in India).