Ban on entry of women of a certain age group at the Sabarimala temple is based on the “patriarchal” belief that the dominant status of a man in society makes him capable of austerity, while a woman, who is only a “chattel of a man,” is incapable of remaining pure for the 41 days of penance before the pilgrimage, the Supreme Court observed on Wednesday.

The Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the court could not accept a practice mired in patriarchy and chauvinism.

‘Not imposed’

The Travancore Devaswom Board, which is against the opening up of the Sabarimala temple to women aged between 10 and 51, responded that every religion then was based on male chauvinism. “Prohibition is not because of male chauvinism. It is linked to the penance and character of the deity. Women accept the prohibition, it is not imposed on them,” said senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for the Board.

But Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said a woman’s acceptance could be traced to a certain social conditioning from the time of her birth in a patriarchal society. She must have unquestioningly accepted the ban, considering that “she has always been told what to say, what to do or not do…”

“My beliefs may be fickle, irrational. But do not search for logic here… These are sensitive matters of religion,” Mr. Singhvi said. He pointed to self-flagellation practised by some Shias. “You can say the practice is barbaric or you can say it is religious. But the truth is people believe in it even though it may not be in consonance with the modern notions of 2018.”

He said women do not ever enter mosques in India, irrespective of menstruation or age.

Justice Chandrachud responded that the court did not depend on modern ethos to examine the question of rights.

Core belief

Mr. Singhvi said the ban was the crux of Sabarimala itself. He argued that the court could not unsettle the “continuous and uninterrupted” core belief of a Hindu sect on the basis of an Article 32 petition.

“It is not for you or me to say the practice is irrational. That is a belief held by all Ayyappa Swamis [pilgrims to Sabarimala],” he said.

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