SC 9-judge bench to frame issues related to discrimination against women in religion

New Delhi, Jan 30 (PTI) The Supreme Court Thursday said a 9-judge Constitution bench will on February 3 frame issues for deliberation in the matter relating to discrimination against women in various religions and at religious places including Kerala's Sabarimala Temple.

It expressed displeasure at the outset over lawyers not being able to arrive at a consensus on legal issues to be adjudicated upon by the nine-judge bench.

The Constitution bench will consider issues related to entry of Muslim women into mosques, female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community and barring of Parsi women, married to non-Parsi men, from the holy fire place at Agiary.

A 3-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, further said the 9-judge bench will go through the issues framed by some arguing lawyers and would try to crystalise the common legal questions to be adjudicated upon by it. It will also fix the hearing schedule.

The bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, said: 'We are little disappointed as you could not arrive at a consensus. Now a nine-judge bench will go through the questions submitted by some of you (advocates) and try to crystallize the issues on February 3 and would decide on schedule and other modalities.' The top court's remark came after senior advocate V Giri, mentioned before the bench that some senior advocates appearing in the matters, including in the Sabarimala case, had framed some legal propositions and the court should look into them.

The court had on January 13 asked four senior lawyers to convene a meeting to decide on the issues to be deliberated by it in the matter.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising said the court should also decide the way the proceedings will go on in the matters as there are a range of issues to be dealt with by the Constitution bench.

The bench said it would not allow two lawyers to argue on the same issue.

'Our object is to settle the larger issues and then the individual cases may be looked into,' the bench said.

The top court had on January 28 said that its nine-judge Constitution bench would wrap up within ten days proceedings in the matter.

It had made it clear that questions to be dealt with would be purely legal in nature and it would not take more time in concluding the hearing.

'It cannot take more than 10-days. Even if someone wants more time, it cannot be given,' the bench had said.

The observations of top court had came when Solicitor General Tushar Mehta mentioned the case before the bench, saying that in pursuance of the court's earlier direction a meeting of lawyers took place but it could not finalise the common legal questions for consideration of the nine-judge bench.

On November 14, last year, while referring the matter to a larger bench, the 5-judge bench had said that the debate about the constitutional validity of religious practices like bar on entry of women and girls into a place of worship was not limited to the Sabarimala case.

It had said such restrictions are there with regard to entry of Muslim women into mosques and 'dargahs' and Parsi women, married to non-Parsi men, being barred from the holy fire place of an Agiary.

It set out seven questions of law to be examined by the larger bench. They include interplay between freedom of religion under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution; need to delineate the expression 'constitutional morality'; the extent to which courts can enquire into particular religious practices; meaning of sections of Hindus under Article 25 and whether 'essential religious practices' of denomination or a section thereof are protected under Article 26.

While the 5-judge bench unanimously agreed to refer religious issues to a larger bench, it gave a 3:2 split decision on petitions seeking a review of the apex court's September 2018 decision allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala.

A majority verdict by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices A M Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra decided to keep pending pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding entry of women into the shrine, and said restrictions on women in religious places was not restricted to Sabarimala alone and was prevalent in other religions as well.

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

The split decision came on 65 petitions -- 56 review petitions, four fresh writ petitions and five transfer pleas -- which were filed after the apex court verdict of September 28, 2018 sparked violent protests in Kerala.

By a majority 4:1 verdict, the apex court 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. PTI MNL ABA SJK RKS SA