Sabrimala Temple Entry Arguments Summary: July 26, 2018.
Mr. Sai Deepak, representing Respondent No 18, Mr. K.K. Sabu argued that the deity Ayyappa is a juristic person who enjoys fundamental rights under the Constitution. He based this claim on two arguments: first under Hindu religion, an idol acquires life after installation and secondly, as Sabarimala temple pay taxes, so the deity has rights under the Constitution.
Mr. Deepak also submitted that the rights of women under Article 25(1) are subject to right of religious denomination to manage internal affairs under Article 26 (b) of the Indian Constitution. He adopted a new argument - Lord Ayyappa is a living entity whose fundamental right to practice 'Brahamcharya' under Article 25(1) is violated by entry of menstruating women inside the temple. Mr. Deepak argued that the deity has the right to privacy under Article 21. Accordingly, his celibate status needs to be given constitutional protection.
Mr. Deepak then said that core belief of the devotees has to be given due consideration. He reformulated the question before the bench as not between temple v. woman but between women v. women and men v. men. Justice Misra queried if it was possible to discriminate if a temple falls under the Public Worship Act, 1991. Mr Deepak argued that the denominational right is not contingent on public character of a place of worship.
Moving on to the argument of a denominational right, he asserted that it is fundamentally the traditions of the temple that determines a religious denomination. Justice Chandrachud queried since people from all religions visit the temple, whether it was possible to have denominational rights across all religions. Mr. Deepak argued that it is possible since it is a primarily a denomination of Ayyappa devotees - who can be from different religion.
Mr. Deepak then alluded to the unique history of the temple where devotees have to first visit a mosque before entering the temple. Justice Nariman observed that it has to be a religious denomination. Justice Misra praised the arguments of Mr. Deepak as “impressive”.
Mr. Deepak referred to Shirur Mutt case to argue that it is “spiritual communality” that indicates the character of a religious denomination. Justice Misra observed that one may attend to the ceremonies of temple but not belong to the group of Ayyappa devotees. Mr. Deepal argued identity ultimately flows from the deity.
Justice Misra queried if the drafters of the constitution had envisaged rights for the deity under the Indian Constitution. Mr. Deepak responded that it is necessary to construe Article 25 and Article 26 as a social contract between nation state and faith.
Justice Nariman added that an affidavit has been submitted that when a woman menstruates, religious practices cannot take place. Mr. Deepak argued that menstruation is not impure and persons under pollution are not allowed inside the temple. He submitted that in case of death in a Hindu family, there are prohibitions on entry to a temple which will also apply with regard to entry inside Sabarimala temple. Furthermore, he argued that every instance of exclusion is not necessarily discrimination.
Justice Chandrachud acknowledged the problem with the essential religious practices test in the court’s jurisprudence. He observed that it forces the court to assess an issue from a theological perspective as opposed to from constitutional values perspective. Mr. Deepak countered that the essentiality test is borne out the spirit of balance in the Indian constitution. He submitted that it would also apply with respect to Article 25(1) as opposed to only Article 25(2)(b) of the Indian Constitution.
Justice Nariman queried that Mr. Raju Ramchandran had argued that the Devaswom Board was a state because it received grants from the state and it was necessary to respond to that argument. Mr Deepak countered that the lands belonging to the temple had been sold off to the state, in lieu of an annual annuity. Accordingly, it was not a state aid strictly speaking.
Mr Deepak acknowledged that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules which prohibits entry of women is an action by the state. He sought to persuade that the rule is essentially a codification of the custom prevalent since time immemorial and thus can't be seen strictly as a state made law.
On the charge of the petitioners that it was a Buddhist religious place at one point of time, Mr. Deepak requested the court that evidence be brought in to prove the claim. Accordingly, he argued that he was willing to bring forth evidence that the custom on restricted entry has been prevalent since time immemorial. With this final argument, Mr Deepak closed his submissions. Mr. Deepak’s passionate arguments forced the bench to take notice of the respondents’ case before this bench.
Mr. Kailashnath Pillai, representing the Ayyappa Seva Sangham, argued that prohibition on entry is a pre-constitutional custom which cannot be seen independently of other customs. He specifically referred to Kelsen’s pure theory of law to argue that the Indian Constitution is not merely a legal text. He specifically asserted that Indian realism demands that the court must respect India’s social realities.
Mr. Abhilash M.R., representing All Kerala Brahmin federation, added that in Kerala, menstrual cloth is given to the devotees since it is a bleeding deity. With this, the day ended and the court will resume hearing the arguments on July 31, 2018.
(This report has been prepared by Mr. Samya Chatterjee.)