A nine judge constitutional bench of Supreme Court will hear the issue of allowing women of all ages to enter Kerala’s Sabrimala Temple. The bench would be headed by Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde and comprises of Justices R. Bhanumati, Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, Mohan M Shantanagoudar, S. Abdul Nazeer, R. Subhash Reddy, B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant.
On November 14, 2019, a 5-judge constitutional bench in a 3:2 verdict had referred the issue to a larger judge bench, the pleas soliciting a review of its landmark 2018 judgement permitting women and girls to enter the temple.
It had however made a mention that the debate about the constitutional validity of religious practices like restrictions on entry of women and girls into a place of worship was not limited to the Sabrimala Case. The apex court said that such restrictions are there with regard to entry of Muslim women into mosques and ‘dargah’ and Parsi women, married to non-Parsi men, are being barred from the holy fire place of an Agyari.
The court said that it was time for them to evolve a judicial policy to do “substantial and complete justice”.
Here is a brief timeline of Sabrimala Case.
1990: A petition was filed by S. Mahendran in the Kerala High Court seeking a ban on entry of women inside the holy shrine.
1991: The Kerala High Court had upheld the restriction of women of certain age entering inside the temple.
2006: A petition was filed in the SC by Indian Young Lawyers Association seeking entry of women and girls of all ages.
2008: The matter was referred to a three judge bench.
January 2016: The court questioned the restriction, saying this cannot be done under the constitution.
April 2016: The then Chief Minister of Kerala, Oomen Chandy told the apex court that they are bound to protect the right to practice the religion of Sabrimala devotees.
November 2016: The Kerala Government informed the SC that it would allow women inside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine.
2017: SC referred the case to the constitution bench.
2018: A five judge bench of Supreme Court allowed the entry of women of all ages in the temple in a 4:1 verdict (the dissenting judgement of Justice Indu Malhotra). The state government sought time to implement the decision, however the women could not enter even after because the followers prevented the entry.
November 2019: The issue was referred to even larger bench combining the confrontational issues with respect to Muslim and Parsi women.
13 January 2020: A nine judge constitutional bench headed by Chief Justice Bobde to hear the review petition.