A nine-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Monday will start hearing a clutch of 60 petitions related to the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, PTI reported. The bench will comprise Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, LN Rao, MM Shantanagoudar, SA Nazeer, RS Reddy, BR Gavai and Surya Kant.
Most of the pleas listed are against the Supreme Court’s 2018 Sabarimala judgement. On September 28, 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench, which included former Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had allowed women of all ages to enter the Ayyappa temple, leading to massive protests. Only a handful of women managed to enter the shrine.
On November 14, 2019, a five-judge Constitution bench ruled, in a 3:2 verdict, that a larger bench should consider the matter again.
The court is likely to examine several matters related to the verdict and petitions, including the interplay between freedom of religion granted under Articles 25 and 26 of Constitution and other provisions, especially in Article 14, that grant right to equality before the law and equal protection of the laws.
Article 25(1) makes freedom of religion subject to “public order, morality and health”, and the top court is likely to examine the extent to which it applies. The court may also examine the meaning of “section of Hindus”, which is mentioned in Article 25(2)(b), reported the website. The sub-section throws open “Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus”.
The court may also check whether the “essential religious practices” of a religious denomination, or section, can be provided constitutional protection under Article 26.
In December, two women, Bindu Ammini and Rehana Fathima, had moved the top court seeking a direction to the Kerala government to ensure police protection for women trying to enter Sabarimala. However, the court said the matter was “very emotive” and declined to pass any order on the pleas. Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said he would set up a much larger bench to reconsider the 2018 judgement.