Under cover of darkness, and with the aid of police, two women in their 40s prayed at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on Wednesday – avoiding thousands of protesters who have stopped others doing so. The day before, a chain of hundreds of thousands of women stretched 620km across the southern state, supporting the right to enter the shrine. Three months after the Indian supreme court’s landmark ruling lifted the bar on their entry, and years after the dispute began, this will not end the matter; violent protests erupted after the visit.
While many Hindu temples bar women who are menstruating, regarding them as unclean, Sabarimala has historically barred all women between 10 and 50 years old. Supporters of the ban argue that this respects the wishes of the deity enshrined there, Lord Ayyappa, who took an oath of celibacy. But it has been challenged repeatedly. Religious faith is deeply rooted. Many women have objected to granting women access. The only supreme court judge to dissent on the ruling (the sole woman) argued that a secular polity should not ordinarily interfere with religious practice, even if irrational.
But tradition and religion are not only a matter of beliefs shared by a community; they embody its power relations. Men are most often those who decree the acceptable boundaries of belief and practice, and are frequently swift to reject any challenge as the result of outside interference. The supreme court ruling – the latest of several bold and commendable judgments – makes it clear that it is precisely about the right of Hindus, in this case women, to practise their religion as they believe they should.
Women seeking to visit the shrine see not faith but misogyny as the obstacle. They understand that tradition and belief evolve. Temple entry campaigns have been a powerful part of broader social reform movements; these campaigners have bravely taken on patriarchal norms in a society that has often enforced them through violence and where political leaders have offered little leadership. The relatives of one visitor are reportedly in a safe house. Conflicting and deeply held beliefs are not quickly reconciled. Yet the supreme court gave politicians an opportunity to advance much-needed social reform.
1. Akhil was a professor of Gender and Rights in NLSIU. Since Sabrimala was much discussed those days, he decided to educate the future lawyers on the same. After reading the passage, what are the reasons which stopped women of menstruating age from entering temples?
(a) Women are quite fragile and may not be able to climb temples located on mountains like the Sabrimala Temple of Kerala.
(b) Women themselves never wanted to go to temple as during ancient and medieval times they were primarily responsible for household chores.
(c) Patriarchy and age-old beliefs which developed into culture and got enforced in Hindu society.
(d) There was a Central Law which prohibited any women from entering temple in India.
2. Akhil, after discussing the history of Gender rights moved on to the present case. He wanted to elucidate the legal aspect of the judgment. If you were Akhil, what could be most logically inferred, about the author’s views, on the Supreme Court ruling on Sabarimala Temple?
(a) The author is unhappy and wishes the Central government to undo the ruling by passing a legislation.
(b) The author is unhappy and wishes the State government to undo the ruling by passing a legislation.
(c) The author is confused and does not espouse any view.
(d) The author supports the Supreme Court’s ruling and sees it as a way of women emancipation.
3. After the Supreme Court ruling, Radha, a young female child of 5 years, is going to the Sabrimala Temple along with her mother who is 35 years old. Will they be allowed to go inside?
(a) No, both can be legally stopped from entering the temple.
(b) Yes, both cannot be legally stopped from entering the temple.
(c) Only Radha will be allowed as she is below the menstruating age.
(d) Yes, as Radha is too young to go alone and hence needs an additional accompanying person.
4. Subsequent to the Supreme Court ruling on Sabarimala Temple, suppose the Indian Parliament makes a law which allows women of all ages to go to the Sabarimala Temple. What legal consequence would such a law have?
(a) In practice there would be no difference as the Supreme Court has already allowed women entry to the temple.
(b) The law would provide additional protection to women of menstruating age to enter the Sabarimala Temple.
(c) The law is unconstitutional as Parliament is not empowered to make laws on matters which have been settled by the Supreme Court.
(d) The law will impinge upon the judiciary’s powers under the constitution.
5. Daya is an NRI. She is living in Nepal. There is a temple in Nepal where women of menstruating age are not allowed. Can she visit the temple following the Indian Supreme Court ruling?
(a) No, as she is of menstruating age.
(b) No, as the Supreme Court’s ruling applies only in Indian territory.
(c) Yes, as it is discrimination based on gender alone.
(d) Yes, as Indian judicial decisions have a persuasive value in Nepalese constitution.
1. Ans. (c) Patriarchy and age-old beliefs which developed into culture and got enforced in Hindu society. The author clearly mentions that rules were made by men during olden days. Moreover, in the second paragraph he points out that deities’ wishes were also a reason as in the case of Lord Ayyappa. Option (a) is out of passage. Option (b) cannot be inferred from passage. Option (d) is self-contradictory.
2. Ans. (d) The author supports the Supreme Court’s ruling and sees it as a way of women emancipation. All through the passage the author is impliedly appreciating the Supreme Court ruling. Towards the end of the passage he clearly mentions that it is a much-needed social reform. Hence, option (c) is not correct. Since the author is happy with the Supreme Court decision, he does not support any law to undo it whether by Central or State governments. So, options (a) and (b) are respectively incorrect.
3. Ans. (b) Yes, both cannot be legally stopped from entering the temple. The Supreme Court ruling clearly allowed women to enter the Sabrimala Temple irrespective of their age. So, option (a) and (c) are incorrect. Option (d) is not patently incorrect but option (b) is more appropriate compared to option (d).
4. Ans. (a) In practice there would be no difference as the Supreme Court has already allowed women entry to the temple. Judgement given by the Supreme Court acts as law throughout the country. Hence, a legislation would legally make no difference. Hence, option (b) is incorrect. Option (c) and (d) are incorrect as Parliament has power to legislate on judicially decided matters and this does not mean impinging of judicial powers.
5. Ans. (b) No, as the Supreme Court’s ruling applies only in Indian territory. None of the remaining options are correct as option (b) is correct. So, whether Daya is of menstruating age or there is discrimination based on gender alone is irreverent. Option (d) is not correct as persuasive value may be accepted or rejected.