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Indian Lawyers Association vs. The State of Kerala


Authored By : Ankita Roy


Abstract:

Women in our society has always been suffered social representation. Though there are constitutional provisions protecting their rights, yet there is a difference between constitutional provision and social reality. This case is the effort of the Supreme Court to bridge this gap The court decided this case in favour of the petitioner with the ratio of 4:1 and struck down the rule that restricted women’s entry and has set an example constitutional morality.


Keywords:

Constitutional Morality; Fundamental rights; Violative; Denominational Character;


Citation:

2017, 10 SCC 689


Court:

Supreme Court of India


Petitioner:

Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors.


Respondent:

State of Kerala & Ors.


Bench:

Justice Dipak Mishra, Justice R.F. Nariman, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Indu Malhotra.


Introduction:

This case is a landmark judgment on unfair religious practices. . In this case, a religious practice at Sabarimala temple restricts the entry of women of certain age group which is violative fundamental rights. There are several issues raised by the petitioners in this case. The petitioners claimed that the practice is violative of the articles 14, 15, 17, 21, 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution. The question on the denominational character of the temple has also been raised by the petitioners.


Background:

This case is the most important case in the history of religious arena. A temple in Kerala has been dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, a celibate deity. It is located in Sabarimala. The Sabarimala shrine has restricted the entry of women of age group of 10-55 years of age as they menstruate. This is being followed from time immemorial. The pilgrims, in order to enter this temple have to follow 41 days of penance and a diet. They have to refrain from alcohol and are not allowed to use profanity. These rule are supposed to e followed in order to complete the pilgrimage. The women of certain age group are not allowed due to their menstruating age and it is believed that the character of the celibacy of the deity will be harmed on their entry. Women have protested against this practice and in this case its constitutionality is being questioned.


Facts:

Several women tried to enter the temple but were threatened of physical assault. The case was taken to Kerala high court but the centuries-old restriction was upheld on the ground that only the priest can change such traditions. A group of female lawyers approached to the apex court appealing the decision of Kerala High Court.


Issues:

i) Whether the rule that prevents the entry of women in the temple is violative of the fundamental rights enshrined under article 14 and 15(3) on the grounds of sex?

ii) Whether the practice constitutes ‘essential religious practice’ under article 25?

iii) Whether a religious institution can assert its claim under the right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion?

iv) Whether the practice based on biological factor exclusively for women amounts to discrimination?

v) Whether Sabarimala Temple Had denominational character?


Arguments Advanced:

Petitioner:

The petitioner contended that the exclusionary practice is violation of article 14, 15, 17 and 21 of the constitution. Prohibition of entry of certain age group due to their gender is violative right to equality and article 15. Banning entry of women of menstruating age intrigues a sense of untouchability is violative of article 17 and harms the dignity of life violating article 21.

Also, rule 3(b) of the said act does not come under article 25 and 26. Right to manage its own religious affairs only confers the right related to management and not making of unfair rules.

It was contended that article 25(2) allows empowers women to enter the temples and restriction them from entering the temple is invasive of women’s rights. Also, the temple is not of denominational character and is not protected by article 26 and is a Hindu temple as all the rituals followed as similar to the rituals of Hindu temple.

Respondent:

The respondents contended that this practice is not discrimination rather a part of essential religious practice so as to keep the pilgrims minds from any sexual distraction. They also contended that women of that age group are unable to complete penance for 41 days.

They said that the temple has a denominational character under article 26 and under article 26(b) they can manage their own religious affairs. Also, they contended that there is no violation of rights under article 14 and 15 as the practice is an essential part of the religious discipline and discrimination against a particular age group of women does not come under article 17.


Judgment:

The court decided this case with ratio of 4:1. Justice Indu Malhotra gave the dissenting judgment. The majority held that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act is unconstitutional and it was struck down. The court also held that the practice is violative of women’s rights under article 25(1). It also held that the Sabarimala temple has no denominational character thus it is not protected by article 26 and cannot have its own religious affairs. The dissenting view was that the temple has a denominational character and it is protected under article 26. Justice Malhotra also said that article 14 cannot override article 25. She argued that constitutional morality requires ‘harmonisation’ of various competing claims to fundamental rights. The judges agreed on the stance that this act is not violative of article 17 and cannot be considered as practice of untouchability.


Conclusion:

This case has a dissenting decision with the ratio of 4:1. The judges have held the rule 3(b) unconstitutional and the practice altogether against constitutional morality and violative of fundamental rights. This case is an example of judicial over-reach. This is because in this case the court has made a decision to such an extent to ban the religious practice altogether. However, the decision made by the court on the basis of constitutional morality would have sufficed.


Reference :

[1] Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. vs. The State of Kerala & Ors. (2018); https://blog.ipleaders.in/indian-young-lawyers-association-ors-vs-state-kerala-ors-2018/;

[2] Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. vs. The State of Kerala & Ors. (2018),https://indiankanoon.org/doc/163639357/;

[3] Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. vs. The State of Kerala & Ors. (2018), https://lawtimesjournal.in/indian-young-lawyers-association-ors-vs-the-state-of-kerala-ors/;