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Supreme Court to discuss gender inequality at religious places, including Sabarimala

The top court had, on January 13, asked four senior lawyers to convene a meeting to decide on the issues to be deliberated by it in the matter.

SNS | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court is scheduled to frame issues for deliberation regarding discrimination against women in various religions and at religious places, including Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, on Monday. A nine-judge Constitution bench will consider the issues related to the entry of Muslim women into mosques, female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community and barring of Parsi women, married to non-Parsi men, in the holy fireplace at an agiary.

Besides Chief Justice S A Bobde, other judges on the bench are justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, M M Shantanagoudar, S A Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant. The top court had, on January 13, asked four senior lawyers to convene a meeting to decide on the issues to be deliberated by it in the matter.

On November 14 last year, while referring the matter to a larger bench, a five-judge bench had said the debate on the constitutional validity of religious practices such as barring the entry of women and girls into a place of worship was not limited to the Sabarimala case.

It had said such restrictions were there with regard to the entry of Muslim women into mosques and dargahs, and Parsi women, married to non-Parsi men, from entering the holy fireplace of an agiary.

It set out seven questions of law to be examined by the larger bench. They include the interplay between freedom of religion under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, need to delineate the expression “constitutional morality”, the extent to which courts can enquire into particular religious practices, meaning of sections of Hindus under Article 25 and whether “essential religious practices” of a denomination or section thereof are protected under Article 26.

While the five-judge bench unanimously agreed to refer religious issues to a larger bench, it gave a 3:2 split verdict on petitions seeking a review of the top court’s September 2018 decision, allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala.

A majority verdict by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices A M Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra decided to keep the pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding the entry of women into the shrine pending and said restrictions on women at religious places were not limited to Sabarimala alone and were prevalent in other religions as well.

The minority verdict by justices R F Nariman and D Y Chandrachud gave a dissenting view by dismissing all the review pleas and directing compliance of its September 28 decision.

The split decision came on 65 petitions, 56 review pleas, four fresh writ petitions and five transfer pleas, which were filed after the top court verdict of September 28, 2018, triggered violent protests in Kerala.

By a 4:1 majority verdict, the top court had lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 years from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala and held that the centuries-old Hindu religious practice was illegal and unconstitutional.