In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India reversed the age-old practice of barring women in childbearing age from visiting the temple in the southern state of Kerala.
The Supreme Court of India’s judgement which opens Sabarimala Temple, located in the midst of mountainous forests, to women had triggered large-scale protests in Kerala and other parts of India. According to the age-old custom, women in childbearing age are not allowed to undertake the pilgrimage to the temple, where the presiding deity is considered to be celibate.
The court, however, ruled on Thursday that the implementation of the judgement must be firmly upheld.
“When the process is complete and a decision is pronounced, it is the decision of the Supreme Court and binds everyone. Compliance is not a matter of option,” the judgement pronounced on Thursday reads.
After the Supreme Court had pronounced its judgement on 28 September 2018, certain political parties and Hindu organizations had resisted its implementation by the government of Kerala, headed by Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM). The state government had mobilized heavy security on the pilgrimage route and the temple premises to facilitate the entry of women of all ages, but the agitating Hindu activists by and large thwarted it.
“Today, it is no longer open to any person or authority to openly flout a Supreme Court judgment or order, given the constitutional scheme as stated by us hereinabove. It is necessary for us to restate these constitutional fundamentals in the light of the sad spectacle of unarmed women between the ages of 10 and 50 being thwarted in the exercise of their fundamental right of worship at the Sabarimala temple,” said the court in its judgement.
Meanwhile, the apex court referred to the larger issue of allowing women in all religious places, including Islamic religious sites.
“It is time that this Court should evolve a judicial policy befitting to its plenary powers to do substantial and complete justice and for an authoritative enunciation of the constitutional principles by a larger bench of not less than seven judges. The decision of a larger bench would put at rest recurring issues touching upon the rights flowing from Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India,” reads the judgement.
The backlash of Hindus in Kerala against the court decision led to political fallout during the Lok Sabha elections in April-May, when all but one candidate fielded by the CPIM faced defeat. Hindus alleged that the state government had not tried to safeguard the sentiments of believers.
Sabarimala Temple, in the western ranges of Kerala, is hugely popular throughout southern India. During the main pilgrimage season, between mid-November to mid-January, millions of pilgrims taking penance for 41 days trek the arduous path through mountainous forests to pay obeisance to the celibate deity.