The Supreme Court judgment referring Sabarimala women entry to a larger bench comes after over a year of immense political agitation on the issue in Kerala. Last September’s verdict led to a fierce clash between the state government attempting to enforce the verdict, and a section of devotees determined to stop women from entering.
The RSS, initially supportive of the judgment, did a 180 degree turn on realising the conservative Hindu sentiment was against allowing women entry and has since led the more aggressive protests. Caste organisations like the Nair Service Society also mobilised huge crowds, many of them women, demanding protection of customs. Not to be left behind, the Left government led its own counter mobilisation through a human wall spanning the length of the state.
While a few women did secure entry with help from police, Sabarimala remains a hill shrine out of bounds for ordinary women devotees. The Supreme Court has to adjudicate between two constitutional principles here: women’s right to equality and the right to freedom of religion. This might explain why even many women devotees took part in the protests seeing the issue from a religious rather than gender perspective. It now falls on future Supreme Court benches to deal with such contested issues involving interplay of women’s constitutional rights and religious practices like Sabarimala, women entry to mosques, and rights of Parsi women.