The Sabarimala effect

A petition in the Supreme Court says women are allowed to enter a mosque at the holy Mecca and also in Canada but not in India

For centuries, entry of women of menstrual age, between 10 and 50, to the temple of Hindu celibate deity, Ayyappan, in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, has been banned. In 1990, a petition in the Kerala High Court alleged that young women were visiting the temple in Sabarimala. The HC banned the entry of menstruating women and said the restriction did not violate Constitution. In 2006, six members of Indian Young Lawyers’ Association, challenged this in the Supreme Court, and the apex court overturned the restriction, declaring it unconstitutional and discriminatory, on September 28, 2018. There was uproar over the SC verdict, leading to multiple review petitions that are undecided. On January 2 this year, two women under the age of 50 finally entered the shrine for the first time.

The Sabarimala verdict gave Muslim couple, Yasmeen Peerzade and her husband Zuber Peerzade, the idea to petition the SC seeking to overturn a centuries-old practice that largely bars women from the places of worship.

The court agreed on April 16 to consider the petition and issued notices to Centre and various bodies, including the National Commission for Women. In an oral remark, a bench of Justices SA Bobde and S Abdul Nazeer said the only reason the SC may hear the petitioners is because of its judgment in Sabarimala temple.

Women are not allowed inside most mosques in India although a few have separate entrances for women to go into segregated areas.

The petitioners have said that there should not be any discrimination against any citizen of the country on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth. They have added that a life of dignity and equality is the most sacrosanct fundamental right and a Muslim woman cannot be prohibited from entering a mosque.

The petitioners’ counsel informed the bench that Muslim women were allowed to enter a mosque at the holy Mecca and also in Canada. The Muslim couple referred to the temple ruling, which angered conservative Hindus, as a precedent to support their call for women to be allowed to pray at mosques.

The court in 2017 ruled as unconstitutional a law which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering the word “talaq”, which means divorce in Arabic, three times.

This year, the government issued an executive order making instant divorce an offence punishable with up to three years in jail.

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