A nine-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court will on Monday begin hearing and examining matters related to the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple and discrimination at other religious places, 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.
The top court had said last week that it would take not more than 10 days to wrap up proceedings in the matter. The chief justice had stated that the questions to be dealt with in the cases will be purely legal in nature. He added that the top court will decide how to “crystallise the issues and then take a decision on the schedule of the proceedings”.
On January 13, the top court had given three weeks to the lawyers in the case to reach a consensus on the specific legal questions that should be considered by the bench. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had told the bench on January 28 that the lawyers could not reach a common ground during their meeting, and requested the court itself to frame the questions.
The court asked Mehta to furnish matters dealt with by the lawyers in their meeting.
Although the matter arose out of the Sabarimala case, the nine-judge Constitution bench was earlier tasked with considering seven bigger legal questions, which could be used to examine other related petitions too, such as the entry of Muslim and Parsi women into places of worship, and female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
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 was expected 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 was also expected to examine the meaning of “section of Hindus”, which is mentioned in Article 25(2)(b). The sub-section throws open “Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus”.
The court was also to check whether the “essential religious practices” of a religious denomination, or section, can be provided constitutional protection under Article 26.