The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Left govt against temple women bar

Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi, Aug. 18: The Left government in Kerala has stated unambiguously that it will back the demand of women for equal rights of worship at Sabarimala temple.

Reacting to a Supreme Court notice to the government, temple affairs minister G. Sudhakaran said: “We’ll definitely apprise the apex court of the government’s stand in favour of getting rid of barriers on women worshipping at the temple.”

The court sent the notice on a petition filed by women lawyers of the Indian Young Lawyers’ Association, seeking to lift the ban on women aged 10 to 50 years worshipping at the temple.

The deity of the temple is Ayyappa, a celibate born of Mohini (Vishnu) and Siva, according to Hindu mythology.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal also issued notices to the Travancore Devaswom Board that administers the temple, the Devaswom commissioner and the senior-most priest.

The petitioners have sought the quashing of the provision of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authority of Entry) Rules, under which women are not allowed to enter the temple.

The association termed the practice a “socio-religious malady” and wondered how the state could give public money to a temple that discriminated against more than half the population on the basis of gender.

In 1991, Kerala High Court had specified that the bar would apply to women aged between 10 and 50.

The views of the minister, who belongs to the CPM — a party that does not believe in God — as an individual were well-known but this is the first time he is pitching it as the government’s position.

If the Left Front administration does submit a similar affidavit in the Supreme Court, it will be the first time a government in Kerala will be taking such a stand.

Kerala has pioneered several social reforms and has an enviable record on “progressive measures” but, of late, few political parties have risked a backlash by openly intervening in religious issues.

The apex court notices today had the effect of uniting the Thazhamon family of Kerala Brahmin priests who hold hereditary rights at Sabarimala temple and the board, which have been at loggerheads.

Board president G. Raman Nair and senior priest Kantararu Maheshwararu spoke in unison, saying they would oppose any move to permit the entry of women between puberty and menopause.

Maheshwararu said menstruating women would not be able to observe the 41-day penance for pilgrims before they trek to the temple. But advocates for lifting the ban said not all devotees go through the 41-day regimen even now.

Dancer Sudha Chandran and others who danced on the temple steps years ago as part of a film were hauled to court and let off with fines.

Recently, an actress created a storm by claiming that she touched the idol several years ago.

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