A PIL was filed by a devotee of Lord Ayyapa in 1990 in the Kerala High Court for the prevention of entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple on the grounds that Lord Ayyapa whose idol was housed in such temple was a celibate god and women between the ages of 10-50 shall be restricted from entry to prevent any deviation of the idol from celibacy. In response to such PIL, the Kerala High Court in 1991 issued directions to the Travancore Devaswom Board (the managing board of the Sabarimala Temple), to ensure that women between the ages of 10-50 years are prohibited from entering the temple at all times of the year.
Thereafter, a PIL was filed in 2006 by Indian Young Lawyers Association in the Supreme Court of India challenging the rules issued by the State of Kerala and notifications issued by Travancore Devaswom Board that prevented entry of women between the ages of 10-50 years into the temple on the grounds that such rules and notifications are violative of the right to religion of women (Article 25) and right to equality (Articles 14 and 15). A special bench comprising of three judges: Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Gopala Gowda and Justice Kurian Joseph, was constituted in 2016 to hear the matter given its constitutional importance.
Lawyers Collective was approached by the intervenors in this PIL: Ms. Nikita Azad and Sukhjit Azad, founders of the campaign against menstrual discrimination, ‘Happy to Bleed’. Senior Advocate, Ms. Indira Jaising, assisted by Advocates: Ms. Meher Dev and Ms. Radhika Saxena, and with the valuable contributions of Advocate Mr. Mohan Katarki, is representing the intervenors in this PIL on a pro bono basis. Ms. Jaising at the outset, indicated to the court that she is representing the voices of feminists within constitutional parameters. She made submissions challenging the constitutional validity of Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 and the notifications issued thereunder by the Travancore Devaswom Board, inter alia, on grounds that they violate: (i) the right to religion of women devotees of Lord Ayyapa (Article 25) (ii) the right of women to equality and nondiscrimination based on sex as they restrict women’s entry based on a biological phenomena of menstruation (Articles 14 and 15) (iii) the rights of women against religious-social disabilities as secured under Article 17, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and (iv) Section 3 and 4 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 that prohibit discrimination amongst classes or sections of Hindus in relation to temple entry.
The submissions made to the Supreme Court of India in I.A. No. 10/2016 in W.P.(C) 373/2006 are available here.