[Kanika Sharma, a student at the Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur, criticises the Sabarimala judgment and attempts to show how certain religious practices cannot be abrogated on the basis of equality.]

Abstract

The work focuses on the validity of ‘essential religious practices’ in light of the Sabarimala judgment. It examines the unrighteousness of the judgment in light of the test of ‘essential religious practices. It critically analyses whether the practice of excluding women between the age of 10 – 50 years into the temple of Lord Ayyappa constitutes an essential religious practice, contrary to the finding in the judgment. The judges have construed and interpreted ‘essential religious practices’ in their own ways. Justice Indu Malhotra, who has given the dissenting opinion in the Sabarimala verdict, has put forth a completely different view upholding the exclusion of women between the age of 10 – 50 years as an essential religious practice. She has upheld that the celibacy practised by the deity i.e. Lord Ayyappa, who is in the form of ‘Naisthik Brahmachari’, does not permit the women to enter into the specific temple where the deity is in his celibate form. She upheld the same on the basis of the history of the temple and the ritual practised by the devotees of the temple i.e. the 41 – day ritual known as Vratham, where the devotees strictly renounce all materialistic pleasures and refrain from interacting with young women. The other judges have allowed the women on the basis of equality. The paper aims to criticise the new judgment and uphold that the exclusion of women from the temple is an ‘essential religious practice’ to the celibacy of the deity. The paper highlights how certain religious practices cannot on the basis of equality be abrogated since they form the core belief of the religion and without the practice of which, the religion could be altered, as they are integral to the very essence of the religion.