A day after five women of menstruating age were stopped from trekking to the Sabarimala Temple, Kerala law minister A K Balan on Sunday said that there was a de facto stay on the Supreme Court’s September 2018 order that allowed the entry of women of all ages into the hilltop shrine.
The five were prevented from praying at the temple on the first day of the two-month-long pilgrimage to the shrine that began two days after the Supreme Court on Thursday referred pleas seeking a review of the September 2018 order to a larger seven-judge bench. In a majority 3-2 verdict, the court did not suspend its earlier order. Justice Rohinton Nariman, who authored the minority dissenting judgment, asked the Kerala government to ensure strict compliance with the 2018 verdict.
“Since the case was referred to a larger bench, de facto there is a stay. We need more clarity on this. We will go by what the court says,” Balan said.
A large number of pilgrimsvisited the temple on the second day of the season as police continued checking at the shrine’s base camp to prevent women of the child-bearing age from trekking to the temple. Many women held copies of their ID cars to prove their age before proceeding towards the temple.
“There is no de facto stay. I don’t know on which context the minister said this” said Supreme Court lawyer M R Ahilash, reacting to the minister’s statement.
Police have been checking buses and other vehicles at the base camp to prevent women of the menstruating age from trekking to the temple.
Officials said that no women in the barred age group turned up on Sunday after police intensified their checking.
State temple affairs minister Kadakampally Surendran, who convened a meeting at the hilltop shrine on Sunday to review the situation, said that they want a peaceful pilgrimage season. “There is peace and the flow of pilgrims really shows this,” he said while ducking questions about the checking at the base camps.
Punnala Sreekumar, the leader of the Renaissance Protection Movement that was formed last year over the temple entry issue, said it is sad that a progressive party like the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) has backtracked on the promise of implementing the 2018 court order.
“It was shocking to hear a minister saying the government will not provide protection to women if they worship at the temple. The Supreme Court has made it clear that it did not stay its earlier verdict,” said Sreekumar, referring to Surendran’s statement a day earlier that the government would not provide police cover to women devotees of menstruating age.
The Supreme Court’s 2018 judgment upheld the right to equality of worship, and triggered protests in Kerala. Traditionalists contend that the entry of female worshippers of childbearing age into the sanctum sanctorum in Sabarimala is sacrilege because Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity, is celibate.
Only two women had succeeded in praying inside the inner sanctum under police protection since the court’s order last September even as about a dozen attempted to do so.
Activist and Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai, who has announced her plan to visit the temple, criticised the state government for preventing women from praying at the shrine. “The state is bound to go by the 2018 verdict of the Supreme Court. It is the state’s responsibility to give protection to women,” she said on Saturday.
Legal experts have said that preventing women from offering prayers at the temple constitutes contempt of the Supreme Court. “The court has categorically held that women have a right to pray at the temple. Even though the court has referred the matter to a seven-judge bench, there is no stay on the earlier judgment,” said Supreme Court advocate Viplav Sharma.