Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors v. The State of Kerala (WP (Civil) No. 373 Of 2006)
Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors v. The State of Kerala & Ors.
Writ Petition (Civil) No. 373 Of 2006
Supreme Court of India (Civil Original Jurisdiction)
Constitutional Bench - Hon’ble Mr Chief Justice Dipak Misra (authored majority judgment), Hon’ble Mr. Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Hon’ble Mr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud (authored separate majority judgment), Hon’ble Mr. Justice R.F. Nariman (authored separate majority judgment) and Hon’ble Ms. Justice Indu Malhotra (authored separate dissent judgment)
ALSO KNOWN AS
Sabarimala Temple Case
POINT OF CONSIDERATION
Whether the practice of exclusion of entry of females between the age group of 10 to 50 years in the Sabarimala Temple violative of Fundamental Rights of excluded female devotees or not?
A writ petition was preferred under Article 32 of the Constitution sought the issuance of directions to appropriate authorities to ensure that entry of female devotees between the age group of 10 to 50 years to the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala (Kerala) which had been denied to them based on certain custom and usage.
The denial of entry of certain women was provided for under Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 (for short, “the 1965 Rules”) framed in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 4 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 (for brevity, “the 1965 Act”).
Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 states as follows – “3. The classes of persons mentioned hereunder shall not be entitled to offer worship in any place of public worship or bath in or use of water of any sacred tank, well, spring or water course appurtenant to a place of public worship whether situate within or outside precincts thereof, or any sacred place including a hill or hill lock, or a road, street or pathways which is requisite for obtaining access to place of public worship:
(b)Women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship.”
- Section 4, 1965 Act under which the aforementioned Rule 3(b), 1965 has been established states that – “Power to make regulations for the maintenance of order and decorum and the due performance of rites and ceremonies in places of public worship – (1) The trustee or any other person in charge of any place public worship shall have power, subject to the control of the competent authority and any rules which may be made by that authority, to make regulations for the maintenance of order and decorum in the place of public worship and the due observance of the religious rites and ceremonies performed therein: Provided that no regulation made under this sub-section shall discriminate in any manner whatsoever, against any Hindu on the ground that he belongs to a particular section or class.”
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the present petition was tasked with answering whether such exclusionary practice as given under Rule 3(b) was violative of Part III of the constitution of India or not.
ISSUES RAISED & RATIO
Whether the exclusionary practice which is based upon a biological factor exclusive to the female gender is protected by “morality” as used in Articles 25 Constitution?
The court held that the term “morality” occurring in Article 25(1) of the Constitution could not be viewed with a narrow lens to confine the sphere of the definition of morality to what an individual, a section or religious sect may perceive the term to mean. Since the Constitution had been adopted and given by the people of this country to themselves, the term “morality” in Article 25 shall be understood as being synonymous with constitutional morality.
It was thereby held that practice of exclusion of women based upon their age violated the inherent principle of equality envisaged under constitutional morality and hence the practice was not protected by Article 25 of the constitution.
Whether the exclusionary practice constitutes an “essential religious practice” under Article 25 or not?
The Court held that the practice of exclusion of women of the age group of 10 to 50 years being followed at the Sabarimala Temple could not be regarded as an essential to the Hindu religion which was followed Ayyappa devotes. In view of the test laid down by this Court in the second Ananda Marga case, the exclusionary practice being followed at the Sabarimala Temple could not be designated as one, the non-observance of which will change or alter the nature of Hindu religion.
Whether Ayyappa Temple has a denominational character and, if so, is the practice of exclusion of women aged 10-50 protected under Article 26 or not?
Hon’ble Chief Justice accepted the view laid down by the Supreme Court in Shirur Mutt and S.P. Mittal, that the devotees of Lord Ayyappa did not constitute a separate religious denomination as they did not have common religious tenets peculiar to themselves, which they regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being, other than those which are common to the Hindu religion. Therefore, the devotees of Lord Ayyappa are exclusively Hindus and do not constitute a separate religious denomination.
Further, Hon’ble Justice R.F. Nariman reiterated that there are three things that are necessary to establish that a particular temple belongs to a religious denomination i.e., the temple must consist of persons who have a common faith, a common organization and are designated by a distinct name. When asked whether all persons who visited the Sabarimala temple had a common faith, the answer given was that all persons, regardless of caste or religion, were worshippers at the said temple. From this, it was also clear that Hindus of all kinds, Muslims, Christians etc., all visited the temple as worshippers, without, in any manner, ceasing to be Hindus, Christians or Muslims. Worshippers could therefore be regarded as Hindus who worship the idol of Lord Ayyappa as part of the Hindu religious form of worship but not as denominational worshippers.
Thus, it was held that the question whether the practice of exclusion of women can be protected under Article 26 is futile since the protection, if any, could be granted under Article 26 only to religious denominations, which the worshippers failed to prove.
Whether Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965 is violative of the provisions of Part III of the Constitution?
It was held that the impugned Rule 3(b) of the 1965 Rules (framed under the 1965 Act) which stipulated that the exclusion of entity of women of the age group of 10 to 50 years, was a clear violation of the right of Hindu women to practise their religious beliefs which, in consequence, made their fundamental right of religion under Article 25(1) a dead letter.
The court held that the exclusionary practice being followed at the Sabrimala temple by virtue of Rule 3(b) of the 1965 Rules violated the right of Hindu women to freely practise their religion and exhibit their devotion towards Lord Ayyappa. The right to practise religion under Article 25(1) was equally available to both men and women of all age groups professing the same religion.
Whether Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965 is ultra vires the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 or not?
Furthermore, it was held that the exclusionary practice which was sanctioned under Rule 3(b) of 1965, Rules was clearly hit by Section 3 of the 1965 Act, which stated that the places of public worship were to be open to all section and classes of Hindus. The 1965 Act was clearly a measure enacted under Article 25(2)(b) which provided for the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of public character for all classes and sections of Hindus. Any religious right claimed based on custom and usage as an essential matter of religious practice under Article 25(1) must be subjected to the aforesaid law made under Article 25(2)(b). The said exclusionary practice was, therefore, held to be violative of Section 3 of the 1965 Act and Part III of Constitution of India and hence, was struck down.
IMPORTANT CASES REFERRED
Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi v State of Uttar Pradesh (1997) 4 SCC 606
Commissioner of Police and others v. Acharya Jagadishwarananda Avadhuta and others (2004) 12 SCC 770
The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt 1954 SCR 1005
S.P. Mittal v. Union of India and Ors., (1983) 1 SCC 51
*Review of the above judgment was filed by the concerned authorities. The review bench referred the matter to a larger bench. A nine judges’ bench was constituted by the Supreme Court in February 2020. The nine judges’ bench will consider the scope of Article 25 and 26 in light of the common issues that arise in the present case and the pending cases concerning entry of women in mosques, practice of Female Genital Mutilation among the Dawoodi Bohra community and right of Parsi women to enter fire temples if they married outside their community.
The author is an LL.B Graduate of University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIPU, New Delhi