This case conerns the prohibition of entry by women between the ages of 10 and 50 to the Sabarimala Temple as part of a customary practice. This customary practice has been challenged as being violative of the fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.
The Sabarimala temple, considered the abode of Lord Ayappa, is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District of Kerala. It prohibits the entry of women in their ‘menstruating years’ (between the ages of 10 to 50) to a place of public worship. Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules ("Public Worship Rules") justifies this practice being based on "custom and usage".
In 1991, this ban had been challenged before the Kerala High Court in S. Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore. The Court ruled that the ban was constitutional and justified, as it was long-standing custom prevailing since time immemorial.
In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a public interest litigation petition before the Supreme Court, challenging this Rule, and seeking a lift of this ban. It argues that the ban violates the Article 14 right to equality, discriminates on the basis of gender, and violates Article 25 which provides the right to practice and propagate religion.
On 18th August 2006, the Supreme Court issued notices to the parties. The matter was referred to a 3-judge Bench on March 7th, 2008. It came up for hearing seven years later, on 11th January 2016. On 20th February 2017, the Court expressed its inclination to refer the case to a Constitution Bench.
Whether the exclusionary practice based on a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to ‘discrimination’. Whether this violates Articles 14, 15 and 17. Whether this is protected by ‘morality’ under Articles 25 and 26.
Whether the practice constitutes an ‘essential religious practice’ under Article 25. Whether a religious institution can assert its claim to do so under their the right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion.
Whether Ayyappa Temple has a denominational character. If it is, is it permissible on the part of a ‘religious denomination’ managed out of Consolidated Fund of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to indulge in practices violating constitutional principles/morality embedded in Articles 14, 15(3), 39(a) and 51-A(e)?
Whether Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules permits a ‘religious denomination’ to ban the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 years. Does this practice violate Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution by restricting entry of women on the ground of sex?
Whether Rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorization of Entry) Rules, 1965 violates the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965. If it does not, does it violate Part III of the Constitution?