Not Just Sabarimala, 7-Judge SC Bench to Also Look Into Women’s Entry in Mosques, Parsi Fire Temples

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said a seven-judge bench will be convened to examine the issues of women’s entry into any house of worship and other religious practices that discriminate against women after it was asked to review a September 2018 order that allowed women entry into Kerala’s revered Sabarimala temple.

The court said the issue of Muslim women’s entry to mosques, cases on female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community and access to fire temples or ‘towers of silence’ for Parsi women who marry outside the community will all be clubbed along with the Sabarimala matter and be heard by the larger bench.

The five-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, split 3:2 on the issue of entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, was unanimous in its decision that the various other religious issues should be referred to the seven-judge bench.

“Restrictions on women in religious places are not restricted to Sabarimala alone and are prevalent in other religions also,” the Chief Justice said as he read out the majority verdict on the review petitions, adding that the court should evolve a common policy on religious places like Sabarimala.

The majority of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra expressed that the issue whether court can interfere in essential practices of a religion needed to be examined by a larger bench. “There is a seminal issue as to the power of the court to determine if the constitutional court can interfere in such integral parts of the religion,” the top court said.

Justice AM Khanwilkar, who had sided with the majority verdict in 2018 — allowing all women entry into the Sabarimala shrine — has in this ruling called for a review of last year verdict.

However, the majority verdict did not say anything adverse against the apex court's September 28, 2018 decision allowing women to enter the shrine nor did it stay the earlier judgment.

The minority verdict by Justices R F Nariman and D Y Chandrachud gave a dissenting view by dismissing all the review pleas and directing compliance of its September 28, 2018, decision.

The split decision came on as many as 65 petitions - including 56 review petitions and four fresh writ petitions and five transfer pleas - which were filed after the apex court verdict of September last year sparked violent protests in Kerala.

The apex court, by a majority verdict of 4:1, on September 28, 2018, had lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine in Kerala and held that the centuries-old Hindu religious practice was illegal and unconstitutional.