Supports urge apex court to dismiss pleas seeking review of verdict

THE Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which runs the historic Sabarimala temple in Kerala, took a U-turn in the Supreme Court on Wednesday by supporting its verdict which had allowed women of all age groups to enter the shrine. The Board, which also comprise the State Government nominees, told a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that any practice has to be consistent with the dominant theme of the Constitution -- “all persons are equally entitled”. In the forenoon, the Kerala Government took the stand that it was in agreement with the September 28 last year verdict and had urged dismissal of petitions seeking review of the verdict.

“Article 25 (1) equally entitles all persons to practice religion,” senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for TDB, told the bench which also comprise Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. At this, Justice Indu Malhotra, who had delivered a dissenting judgement favouring non-interference with the prevailing practice, asked Dwivedi: “There’s a change in stand of Devaswom Board. You had argued otherwise.”

“Now the Board has taken a decision to respect the judgement,” Dwivedi replied.

The Board had earlier vehemently opposed the PIL by Indian Young Lawyers Association saying that the celibate character of Lord Aiyappa at Sabarimala temple was a unique religious feature which was protected under the Constitution. “Women cannot be excluded from any walk of life on biological attributes. Equality is the dominant theme of the Constitution”, said Dwivedi adding that people should gracefully accept the apex court verdict.

Although the Devaswom Board stated for the first time its changed position before the court, earlier it had sought an explanation from the Tantri for closing the temple for a while to undertake its purification including the sanctum sanctorum after two women of the menstruating age had entered the temple and offered prayers.

The apex court is hearing a batch of petitions seeking review of the verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine. On September 28, a five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by the then CJI Dipak Misra, in a 4:1 verdict had paved the way for entry of women of all ages into the shrine, saying the ban amounted to gender discrimination.

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