The Kerala government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it believes that women should be allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple.

“Nobody can guarantee that a person can live till 50 or 55 even with advancement of medical age,” the state government’s counsel Jaideep Gupta told the court. “So effectively a lot of women will be barred from going to the temple.”

The counsel said this before a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, which is hearing a set of pleas challenging restrictions on the entry of women into the temple in Pathanamthitta district.

Advocate PV Surendranath, who is arguing the case for the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said discrimination based on sex is against dignity.

Amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran said the protection against untouchability should be interpreted to include any exclusion based on impurity or pollution. “If excluding women is based on menarche, its basis is impurity,” he said. “Then the effect is same as in the case of Dalits.”

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said the temple administration’s requirement that pilgrims perform penance for 41 days before starting on their journey “is actually doing something indirectly what they [temple administration] cannot do directly”, Bar and Bench reported. It is impossible for women to observe the penance, he added.

The court will resume hearings in the case on July 24.

On Wednesday, the top court observed that women have the constitutional right to enter the temple and pray without facing any discrimination. What applies to a man applies to a woman too, Misra had said.

The Sabarimala temple does not allow women between the ages of 10 and 50 to enter its inner sanctum, a practice defended by its managing authority, the Travancore Devaswom Board. On April 20, 2017, the board said women wishing to offer prayers in the temple’s inner sanctum must carry proof of age.

In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a writ petition contending that the restriction imposed on the entry of women at the temple is unconstitutional, according to Live Law. Over the next couple of years, there were occasional hearings on the case by various judges before it was referred to a three-judge bench in March 2008, according to The Hindu. It was finally taken up for hearing in January 2016.

In October 2017, a three-judge bench headed by Misra referred the matter to the Constitution bench. The judges framed six questions for the bench to consider and decide whether the practice is discriminatory based on gender.

The Constitution bench will consider if the practice is discriminatory and therefore violates the right to equality before law, protection from religious discrimination and the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, or whether it qualifies as an “essential religious practice” under the purview of Article 25, which allows the freedom to follow religion in a manner one chooses.