The Supreme Court said that it may refer to the larger constitution bench the question whether the constitutional right to equality of a women could be raised to “interfere” with religious beliefs and customs denying women between the age group of 10 to 50 years entry to Kerala’s Sabrimala temple.
The question on which the court would hear detailed arguments on November 7 is whether women’s right to equality before law guaranteed under the Constitution’s Article 14 could be invoked in the face of the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion guaranteed under Article 25 and Freedom to manage religious affairs guaranteed under Article 26.
Noting that “an issue like this has never been raised”, the bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C. Nagappan said that it would hear arguments to refer to the constitution bench the plea challenging the denial of entry to women between the age group of 10 to 50 years to Sabrimala temple.
The court decided to hear the arguments after senior counsel K.K.Venugopal appearing for the Devaswom Board urging the court to tread cautiously as the issues affects a large section of people in Kerala.
Other lawyers present during the hearing urged the bench to take into consideration the desire and wishes of the presiding deity of the temple.
As Venugopal urged caution, the bench said: “We are aware of that. we will pass an order detailing why we are compelled to refer to a Constitution Bench. Here is an issue which has never arisen before.”
The conflict of constitutional provision has been raised by the bench earlier also when in the course of the hearing in April, it had asked the Devaswom Board “whatever grounds you (Devaswom Board ) make take.. can a woman be denied entry in theAtemple. Will it stand a constitutional test?”
In the course of the hearing on Monday, the bench asked senior counsel V.Giri if Kerala government was not going to revisit its stand on the entry of women between the age group of 10 to 50 years with the change of government.
The CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front government in 2007 had filed an affidavit saying that it favoured entry of women in the temple but this position was reversed in an affidavit filed by the Congress-led United Democratic Front government in February 2016.
Incidentally this is the first hearing on the Sabrimala temple after the LDF government assumed power recently.