The Sabarimala temple is set to again witness a result of the recent SC’s decision on Sabarimala Shrine. as it opens for the two-month long ‘mandalam-makaravilakku’ festival on the evening of November 16. This is the heaviest pilgrim season at the hill shrine in a year.
Earlier, on September 28, a five-judge constitution bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, came up with a 4:1 verdict. The SC’s decision on Sabarimala shrine had paved the way for entry of women of all ages saying the ban amounted to gender discrimination.
Then on October 9, a review plea was filed by the National Ayyappa Devotees Association (NADA) which had contended that the five-judge Constitution bench’s verdict lifting the ban was “absolutely untenable and irrational” and an urgent hearing was requested. The top court had declined the hearing.
Besides the association, several other petitions, including one by the Nair Service Society (NSS), have been filed against the apex court verdict. There are around 48 petitions seeking review of the September 28 verdict allowing entry of women of all age groups into the Sabarimala temple.
On November 13, the review petitions against the September 28 verdict were taken up ‘in-chamber’ by a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
The bench came up with a verdict. The SC’s decision on Sabarimala shrine refused to stay its 28th September verdict. It agreed to hear in open court on January 22, 2019 all the Review Petitions along with all pending applications in the matter before the appropriate Bench. This date fixed for the hearing is well after the two-month current pilgrimage season at the temple gets over.
As expected both the government and the opposition reacted with their own versions to this decision. While one faction says that the September 28 order is valid, while the other faction says that in agreeing to hear in open court, the SC has admitted that there were mistakes in its order.
Meanwhile, Kerala’s ruling LDF government has been given the responsibility to implement the directions of the Supreme Court on the entry of women of all ages at the Sabarimala temple. The Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan underlined that the Supreme Court’s earlier judgment on women’s entry remains in place.
The coming two months will thus be a crucial period for the government. It had already seen a number of protests earlier on the sensitive issue. It is short on manpower to enforce order, it had asked for help from neighboring states, but they had expressed their inabilities to provide more security forces. (See: Another showdown)
After holding a meeting to review the facilities at the temple ahead of the upcoming pilgrim season on 13th November, Vijayan said the verdict of the SC Constitutional bench “still remains in force”.
The CM, however, said that the state government would take a final call on the issue after consulting legal experts as the apex court had not stayed its September 28 decision.
“That means, hearing of review petitions would happen only after the Sabarimala pilgrim season ends on January 20. The court hasn’t stayed the earlier order. We have to look into its legal aspects,” the Chief Minister said.
The government has called for an all-party meeting on November 15 apparently to show that the administration is willing to listen to the concerns of all. (See also: Sabarimala shrine)
The Opposition parties and stakeholders in Kerala’s Sabarimala temple on Tuesday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear review petitions against its judgment and demanded that women in the 10-50 age group should not be allowed inside the temple during the Mandala Makaravillakku pilgrim season, starting November 17.
Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar has also said that it would also decide on the next step after consulting legal experts.
“We hope the all-party meeting will look into it (entry of women of all ages into the temple). The board has to obey the Supreme Court as well as ensure that the traditions and rituals at the temple are maintained,” Padmakumar said.
Ramesh Chennithala, Congress leader and LoP in the Assembly, meanwhile, advised the state government to take a judicious stand on the matter. “The Kerala government should not forcibly take young women to the temple. It should respect the prevailing sentiments of the devotees. The Congress will continue to fight for protecting the rights of the devotees,” he said.
On behalf of the Congress, Prayar Gopalakrishnan had also filed a review petition.
BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai claimed that the apex court’s decision to hear the review petitions in the open court reflected the sentiments of devotees. He asked the Vijayan government not to allow women from the “barred” age group to enter the shrine during the two-month-long festival. That is, “The government should not implement the earlier (September 28) order, until the final verdict of the Supreme Court on the review petitions.”
Sabarimala temple head priest Rajeevaru Kandararu said the court’s decision was a “a major victory”.
“I am happy over the decision. The temple has been going through a difficult situation in the wake of the floods and the Supreme Court verdict on young women’s entry. The decision that the review petitions would be heard in an open court is a major victory. We expect that the final verdict would substantiate our stand on entry of young women to Sabarimala,” Kandararu said.
Representative of the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam, Sasikumar Varma claimed that the apex court’s decision to hear review petitions indicated that “half of the battle is won”.
Both the Pandalam Palace Coordination Committee (PPCC) and the Nair Service Society, important stakeholders in the controversy and who had submitted review petitions before the top court, said the news today from New Delhi indicated a ‘partial victory.’