Writ Petition (Civil) No. 373 of 2006
Petitioner: Indian Young Lawyers Association
Respondent: State of Kerala
Pandalam Royal Family
Travancore Devaswom Board
Bench: Justice Rohintan Nariman, Justice A.N.Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Deepak Mishra, Justice Indu Malhotra
1. In 1990, a plea was submitted to the Kerala High Court seeking a prohibition on the admission of women inside the Sabarimala temple, maintaining the restriction on women belonging to specific age groups.
2. In 2006, a request was filed with the Supreme Court of India, invoking Article 32 of the Indian Constitution by a registered association of young Indian lawyers. Their plea aimed to permit the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 into the temple.
3. In 2008, the matter was referred to a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
4. In January 2016, the Supreme Court raised concerns regarding the restriction and declared that it was not in line with constitutional principles.
5. In April 2016, the government of Kerala responded by stating its obligation to safeguard the religious rights of Sabarimala devotees.
6. In 2017, the Supreme Court referred the case to a Constitutional bench for further examination.
7. The writ petition argued that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965, enacted under the authority of Section 4 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965, was unconstitutional. It was alleged that this rule violated the provisions of Articles 14, 15, 25, and 51A(e) of the Indian Constitution.
A. Is it discriminatory to exclude women based on a unique biological factor associated with the female gender? Does this exclusion infringe upon the rights protected by Articles 14, 15, and 17 of the Constitution without being justified by the concept of “morality” mentioned in Articles 25 and 26?
B. Does excluding these women qualify as an “essential religious practice” under Article 25? Can a religious institution assert such a claim under the pretext of Article 25?
C. Does the Ayyappa Temple possess a denominational character? If so, can a “religious denomination” funded by the Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu be permissible to violate constitutional principles?
D. Does Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965, violate the provisions of Part III of the Constitution if it is considered to fall within the legal authority of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Act, 1965?
E. Do the Rules governing public worship, which allow for such practices, conflict with the prevailing legislation that prohibits discriminatory practices?
1. The petitioners argued that excluding women from worshipping in the Sabarimala temple is not essential to the Hindu religion.
2. The temple management falls under the purview of the Travancore Devaswom Board, which gets funds from the general public. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as a distinct religious entity. The Shirur Mutt case provided the prerequisites for being recognized as a religious denomination, including factors such as a separate identity, possession of the property, followers, specific beliefs, practices, and administrative autonomy.
3. The petitioners presented historical evidence to support their argument that women were allowed entry into the temple during the reign of the Travancore king, indicating that restricting women’s access was not a longstanding customary practice.
4. The argument was made that the ban on women’s entry was based on practical and physiological dimensions, such as the difficulty of the path and the arduous 41-day journey, which was deemed unreasonable and unfounded.
5. It was contended that considering women impure during menstruation and imposing restrictions on touching them amounted to discrimination based on sex and a form of practicing untouchability, which is strictly forbidden under the Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution.
6. Article 25 of the Constitution grants women the freedom to practice their religion, further supporting the argument for allowing women’s entry into the temple.
7. The restriction on women based on the celibate character of Lord Ayyapan was seen as demeaning to women and perpetuating gender-based discrimination.
8. It was submitted that fundamental rights were violated by Rule 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules.
Arguments of Respondents
1. They argued that the restrictions were based on traditions and religious beliefs linked with the deity of the Sabarimala temple. The argument was that women should respect these restrictions, not challenge them.
2. It was contended that Lord Ayyappa, worshipped in the temple, is considered a celibate deity and should be treated as a person and, thus, has the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution, which further include the imposition of constraints on women’s entry.
3. The contention was made that allowing women between the ages of 10-50, corresponding to their menstruating age, to enter the temple would be inconsonant with the celibate nature attributed to Lord Ayyappa.
4. It was argued that women undergoing a 41-day penance, as required for entry, is physiologically not possible for them.
5. Supporters of the restrictions maintained that the prohibition on women’s entry into the temple forms an essential part of their religious belief and should be respected as such.
6. The contention was also made that Article 15(2) of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, is not applicable to religious institutions, and therefore the restriction on women’s entry should not be deemed discriminatory.
• With a majority of 4:1, the court gave the verdict that barring women’s entry to the Sabarimala Temple violated the Indian Constitution.
• The court found that the restriction infringed upon fundamental rights to freedom, equality, and freedom of religion protected by Articles 14, 15, 17, 19(1), 21, and 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.
• Former Chief Justice Dipak Misra highlighted that regulations undermining women’s dignity would be void as they violate Articles 14 and 15. Justice According to Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, excluding women because of untouchability or their menstrual periods is against constitutional morality/Article 17.
• The court explained that “morality” under Article 25 refers to constitutional morality rather than individual or societal morality. Violating a fundamental right means a violation of constitutional morality. Thus, practices of this nature are not protected by Article 25.
• According to the court, Article 25 grants every individual the right to practice religion, regardless of gender. Therefore, the restriction on women entering the Sabarimala Temple violated their rights to visit a public temple, freely practice their faith, and express their devotion. It held that allowing women’s entry would not fundamentally modify the principles of Hinduism.
• The devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a distinct religious denomination under Article 26. Moreover, excluding women has no scriptural or literary evidence, rendering it unable to be regarded as an essential spiritual practice.
• The court declared rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules unconstitutional as it violated the Indian Constitution. It also noted that the rule contradicted the objectives of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act, which aimed to reform and open public Hindu places of worship to all.
• Justice Indu Malhotra dissented, expressing the view that the court should generally refrain from interfering in matters deeply rooted in religious sentiments. She argued that the temple qualified as a religious denomination and that the practice aimed to preserve the temple’s purity rather than being discriminatory under Article 17.
Defects of Law
The Sabarimala temple entry case indeed involved complexities related to religion, social norms, and constitutional morality. The court’s interpretation and intervention were necessary to address the restriction on women’s entry and protect them
fundamental rights. The court’s role in resolving the issue and upholding constitutional values was crucial.
In matters where fundamental rights are at stake, the court has the responsibility to
ensure that constitutional guarantees are upheld and that discriminatory practices are addressed. The case was meticulously examined to ensure that the proper result was reached, taking into consideration constitutional principles and the rights of individuals.
It is important to note that the court’s intervention in religious matters is not
unprecedented. The judiciary has the authority to interpret and apply constitutional provisions, including those related to religious freedom, in order to protect individual rights and maintain constitutional validity. In this case, the court’s intervention was deemed necessary to strike a balance between religious practices and individual rights. While it is true that no legal system is entirely free of potential loopholes, the court’s decision in the Sabarimala temple entry case was based on a thorough examination of constitutional provisions, precedents, and relevant arguments. The court’s judgment aimed to resolve the issue within the framework of the law and uphold constitutional morality.
The Apex Court attempted to reconcile socioeconomic reality and constitutional principles in this case. And it succeeded in doing so someplace. It was crucial to declare such a discriminatory practice—forbidding women from entering the
temple—unconstitutional. Without the right of its citizens to practice their religion freely, democracy cannot exist in a nation like India.
Women face a lot of bias in our society since they are considered to be the inferior sex in our culture. Indians, particularly the women, endured discrimination due of
longstanding practices and traditions. Their confidence was greatly boosted by the Supreme Court’s historic ruling. It set a precedent that superstition and patriarchy cannot be allowed to undermine the moral principles of the constitution.
Justice Indu Malhotra is correct in her belief that the Court shouldn’t routinely get involved in situations involving strong religious feelings. However, when a person’s fundamental right to exercise their religion freely is ironically violated in the name of religion, the courts should get involved. The courts have a responsibility to defend constitutional morality and protect women’s fundamental rights. Such interference and focus, nevertheless, have limits.
Saumya Chaudhary Lloyd Law College
 INDIAN YOUNG LAWYERS ASSOCIATION & ORS V. STATE OF KERALA & ORS. (2019) 11 SCC 1
 Vineet Mishra, “Brief analysis of Sabarimala Temple case Indian Young Lawyers Association v/s Kerala”, LEGAL SERVICES INDIA (May 28, 2023), https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4872-brief-analysis-of- sabarimala-temple-case-indian-young-lawyers-association-v-s-kerala.html.
 Sabrimala Temple Entry, SUPREME COURT OBSERVER (28 May 2023), https://www.scobserver.in/cases/indian-young-lawyers-association-v-state-of-kerala-sabarimala-temple-entry-background/amp/.