Denying women the right to enter and pray in the historic Sabarimala temple in Kerala cannot be justified on the basis of traditions which violated constitutional principle, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.
"You cannot deny entry of women based on traditions which are against the principles of the Constitution," a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra.
The bench, also comprising Justices V Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph, did not agree, for the time being, with the contention that the plea seeking entry of women into the temple be referred to a five-judge constitution bench.
"In case we feel later that substantial questions of constitutional importance are there, then we may refer it to the constitution bench," it said.
At one point during the hearing, the bench took strong note of the submission of senior advocate Indira Jaising that women have become "neo-harijans" of India for being denied entry in the temple.
"Why do you say that? Don't compare like this...You are 'Aadi Shakti'. Women have created this generation. You must say that you are equal," the bench observed, leading Jaising to withdraw her submission.
The bench also questioned whether "a physiological phenomenon (menstruation) can be a guiding factor for denying women entry" in the temple.
Jaising, arguing for NGO Happy to Bleed, submitted that women are part of the Hindu community and hence cannot be denied the right to pray in a public temple and moreover, that right is guaranteed under Article 25 of the constitution.
"In Hindu religion, there is no denomination of a Hindu male or female. A Hindu is a Hindu," the bench said, adding that it would not deal with the customary belief that the bar on entry of women is in place to maintain purity of Lord Ayyappa deity.
The apex court reiterated that it would decide on the right of women to enter the temple on the basis of constitutional principles.
Jaising said that women cannot be subjected to differential treatment.
The hearing in the case would resume on April 18.
Earlier, the court had asserted that it would decide on the right of women to enter the shrine on the basis of constitutional principles and not by the prevalent customary practices.
"We will now only be guided by the rationale under the constitution. The gravity of this petition is that gender justice is endangered," it had said.
The court is hearing a public interest litigation, filed by Indian Young Lawyers' Association, seeking entry of women in the Sabarimala temple, located on a hill-top in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Kerala's Pathanamthitta District.