Travancore Devaswom Board takes a U-turn

The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the affairs of Sabarimala temple, sprung a surprise in the Supreme Court by supporting the entry of women of all ages into the shrine, saying that any practice has to be consistent with the dominant theme of the Constitution — “all persons are equally entitled”.

The board spelt out its new position before the five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra that was hearing a clutch of petition seeking a review of the court’s earlier judgment permitting women of all age groups to enter the temple.

After hearing all sides, the court reserved its judgment in the matter.

Senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi, who appeared for the Devaswom Board, said: “Practices prevailing in our temples should be in conformity with the constitutional morality.”

At this, Justice Indu Malhotra, who had delivered a dissenting judgment favouring non-interference with the prevailing practice, asked Dwivedi: “There’s a change in stand of Devaswom Board. You had argued otherwise.” Dwivedi replied, “Now the board has taken a decision to respect the judgment.” However, the board has filed a petition at the court, seeking more time to implement its Sabarimala order.

The SC bench was hearing 65 petitions, including 56 review pleas, filed by the Nair Service Society, Sabarimala Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru and others challenging its September 28, 2018, verdict, allowing women aged between 10 and 50 years to enter Sabarimala.

CJI Ranjan Gogoi asked the counsels appearing for the petitioners to explain why they want the verdict to be reviewed and what errors they find in it. The petitioners, who were so long citing the ‘purity factor’ to argue why women of menstruating age should not be allowed in the temple, have now altered their stand and are harping on the “rights” of the Sabarimala deity who is a “naishtika brahmachari”.

The LDF government, on its part, came out in support of the court’s judgment, saying that no ground has been made out for review of the order. Advocate Jaideep Gupta, who appeared on behalf of the state, said that the issue at hand is not a “private” one but a public law issue unless the petitioners argue that women between 10 and 50 years are not Hindus.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising, who appeared for Bindu Ammini and Kanakadurga — the two women who entered Sabarimala shrine — submitted before the court that Bindu is a Dalit.

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