A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled, in a 3:2 verdict, that a larger bench should again consider the matter of the entry of women of all ages into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple.

The seven-judge bench will also look into matters such as the entry of Muslim and Parsi women into places of worship, and female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community. It has to decide if a constitutional court can interfere in integral parts of a religion, said Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

The court took this decision after reviewing a number of petitions filed against its September 2018 verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the Hindu shrine. Even though the larger bench will take a final call on the matter, the court did not stay the Sabarimala ruling.

Apart from Gogoi, Justices Indu Malhotra, Rohinton Fali Nariman, AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud were part of the bench that delivered the judgement. They had reserved their verdict on February 6 after hearing a batch of 56 review petitions, four writ petitions, two transfer petitions filed by the Kerala government, two Special Leave Petitions, and a plea filed by the Travancore Devaswom Board seeking time to implement last year’s judgement.

Justices Chandrachud and Nariman disagreed with the majority view. Nariman, who read the dissenting opinion, said the matter of Parsi and Muslim women were not before the Sabarimala bench and should not be clubbed together, Live Law reported.

Nariman also criticised the violent agitations that broke out in Kerala last year after the court’s verdict. “Compliance with Supreme Court judgements is not optional,” said Justices Chandrachud and Nariman, according to Bar and Bench. Bonafide criticism of Supreme Court judgements is permissible, but organised efforts to subvert the judgement cannot be allowed, they said.

Ahead of the verdict, the state police made elaborate security arrangements around the temple premises, reported The News Minute. Top police officials were asked to ensure that no untoward incident takes place. More than 300 women personnel, including 30 inspectors and sub-inspectors, were also deployed. The Sabarimala temple will be open for pilgrims again from November 17.

Last year, the five-judge Constitution bench, which included former Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had allowed women of all ages to enter the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, which led to massive protests. Only a handful of women managed to enter the temple even after the top court had set aside the centuries-old tradition that had banned women between the ages of 10 and 50 from stepping inside it. The ruling Left government had also supported the entry of women, opposing Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party workers, among others.

The matter had snowballed into a huge political issue, with the state Election Commission banning political outfits from bringing it up during campaigning. Many conservative and religious leaders had criticised the court’s judgement.

The judgement had noted, “To exclude women of the age group 10-50 from the temple is to deny dignity to women. To treat women as children of lesser god is to blink at the Constitution.” The lone dissenting opinion, that of Justice Indu Malhotra’s, had said that notions of rationality could not be brought into religious concerns by the court.

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