Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra today observed that the Deity at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple had the right to restrict entry to the temple. Justice Misra’s observations came when senior counsel R P Gupta was making his submissions against the arguments to uphold the temple’s tradition of not permitting women age between 10 and 50 years.
“The Deity is a celibate and it is the Deity’s will and right to protect his vow of Naishtika Brahmacharya,” the Chief Justice observed, wondering on what basis the petitioner approached the court.
Observing the practice of not allowing women between ages of 10 and 50 cannot come under Article 14 or equality before law, Misra said the practice is protected by Article 25(1) that gives the right to follow or practice any religion.
Justice Rohinton Nariman, part of the bench hearing the case, chipped to say that the restriction on women is because of the character of the Deity.
The Chief Justice pointed out to Gupta the 1991 Kerala High Court judgement which held the view that the Sabarimala temple deity was in the form of “Naishtika Brahmachari” (eternal bachelor) and it was the basis of the practice of the temple to exclude women of ages 10 to 50. Justice Misra also pointed to another observation of the Kerala High Court that reinforced the celibate nature of Lord Ayyappa and said that it was the fulcrum of the arguments of those who favoured the restrictions.
Responding to senior counsel Indira Jaising, arguing for non-government organisation Right to Bleed, Justice Nariman wondered if Article 15(1) that prevents the state from discriminating on various grounds could hold good in the case. He asked Jaising to first prove that the custom “has the force of law”.
Justice D Y Chandrachud, another member of the bench, observed that if the impact is felt by one gender, then perhaps it could attract Article 15. Jaisingh argued that the impact of the practice should be considered.
The Supreme Court is hearing the petition on a daily basis and Wednesday was the eighth day.