The Supreme Court in India lifted a centuries-old ban Friday on girls and women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering one of the holiest Hindu temples in southern India, saying that treating women as children of a lesser god is unconstitutional.
Lifting the ban, the Chief Justice of India said "restrictions put by Sabarimala temple can't be held as essential religious practice".
On Thursday, the court struck down a colonial-era law that criminalised adultery, a day after clipping the wings of a national biometric identity card programme because of privacy concerns.
Menstruating women are regarded as unclean in many Hindu communities, as well as in Nepal, where the government recently made the practice of forcing women into cowsheds while during menstruation illegal. I am thinking of going to the temple now that women are allowed. "The restriction on the entry of women during the notified age group in this temple is based on the unique characteristic of the deity, and not founded on any social exclusion", she said, noting that women of the notified age group are allowed to enter other temples of Lord Ayyappa.
Women pledged (called 'kathiruppom, ' meaning let us wait) to offer worship at the temple in Sabarimala only when they attain the age stipulated by "customs and beliefs", he said. The temple's authorities say they will appeal the ruling.
The lone dissenting judge on the five-judge bench was, perhaps surprisingly, a female.
"Notions of rationality can not be invoked in matters of religion by courts", justice Malhotra said, observing that the decision in the case will have wide-reaching ramifications for all places of worship of various religions in the country.
Rahul Eswaran, an attorney for the temple, said its management would seek a review of the court's decision.
But others hailed the judgment as progressive. Delivering the judgment, CJI Misra said Ayyappa devotees do not constitute a separate religious denomination.
FILE - A gardener works on the lawns of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India, Aug. 22, 2017. "What applies to a man, applies to a woman also", the bench had observed. Earlier this month, it scrapped a law banning gay sex, sparking celebrations across India and elsewhere in South Asia, where activists hope to push for similar reform. "It is irrelevant whether the practice is rational or logical", she said.