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The age-old rule of the Sabarimala temple of Kerala, a hill shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, forbids the entry of menstruating women.

The SC has referred the matter relating to bar on entry of women of 15-50 age group (menstruating age) in Sabarimala temple to a five-judge Constitution Bench on Friday.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan passed the order.

There had been several pleas, earlier submitted in the SC, challenging the custom of one of Kerala’s most famed temples.

The Constitution Bench will now be looking into several women rights claims regarding the matter, especially the women’s fundamental right of freedom to pray at their place of choice. The petitioners challenged prevalent gender discrimination imposed by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which is a statutory board, created by a State Legislature, to manage the temple.

However, responding to the petitioners arguments for equal rights, the temple authority justified their stand, explaining the discrimination as an age-old practice founded in tradition. Reserving its order earlier in February, the Supreme Court directed both the parties to file written submissions, under the Constitutional framework, to be referred to the larger bench.

Appearing on behalf of the Travancore Devasom Board, Senior Counsel KK Venugopal had earlier, citing the complexity of the matter, told that it involved substantive interpretation of the Constitution under Article 145(3). Furthermore, the Constitution Bench will now also decide whether the matter comes under Article 25, which involves the right to religious freedom for the Ayyappa devotees.

The age-old rule of the Sabarimala temple of Kerala, a hill shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, forbids the entry of menstruating women into the inner sanctum of the temple. However, the Kerala state government, in November last year, stated that it is ready to allow women into the temple and the court also, in April 2016, questioned the temple authorities on the prevalent gender discrimination at the temple. Further questioning whether it is legal to stop entry of people in a temple meant for the public, on the basis of gender, the court in January 2016, asked, “Is there any proof that women did not enter the Sabarimala temple 1,500 years ago?”

In 2007, the LDF government batted for the entry of women of all age groups into the shrine, but the decision was later opposed by the UDF government.

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