Indian Young Lawyers’ Association v State of Kerala 

Judges: Dipak Misra, AM Khanvilkar, RF Nariman, DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra

Case No. WP (C) 373/2006


1. Whether Rule 3 of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules permits a ‘religious denomination’ to ban the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 years. Does this practice violate Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution by restricting entry on the grounds of sex?

2. Whether the practice constitutes an ‘essential religious practice’ under Article 25? Whether a religious institution can assert its claim to do so under the right to manage its own affairs in the matters of religion?

3. Whether the exclusionary practice based on a biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to ‘discrimination’? Whether this practice violates the core of Articles 14, 15 and 17?

4. Whether the Sabarimala Temple has a denominational character?

The Supreme Court in a progressive yet bold decision declared the prohibition of women of the menstruating age into the temple premises at Sabrimala as unconstitutional. However,there was a petition filed before a bigger bench of the Supreme Court to review this petition, which is currently pending.

The Sabrimala Temple, considered to be the heavenly abode of Lord Ayyappa, is situated in the Western Ghats of Kerala. It prohibited the entry of women in their menstruating years (between 10 – 50 years) into the temple premises in order to protect the sanctity of their place of worship.

In 2006, the petitioners (Indian Young Lawyers’ Association) filed a PIL before the Apex court challenging the said exclusion of women of menstruating age, claiming the violation of their Right to Equality u/a 14 and freedom of religion u/a 25.

The state on the other hand contended that the temple board (Travancore Devaswom Board) had the authority to manage the Temple. Article 26 of the Constitution of India empowers a religious denomination to manage its own religious affairs. Also, the custom was protected by Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 ("Public Worship Rules") which allowed the exclusion of women from public places of worship, if the exclusion was based on 'custom'. The said exclusion was challenged earlier in S. Mahendran vs The Secretary, Travancore , where a division bench of the Kerala High Court upheld the validity of the said custom and dismissing the petition.

In August 2006, notices were issued to the parties, and the matter was reported to a three-judge bench in 2008. In February 2007, the matter was referred to a constitution bench for passing a decision.

In a 4:1 majority opinion, the Apex Court struck down the said exclusion of women under Rule 3(b) of Public worship rules was unconstitutional and violative of article 14. Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman judge on the bench, in her dissenting opinion was of the view that, in a Secular environment, the State must not interfere in the religious practises of any religion and the matters pertaining to such customs should be left to those practising the religion.

This particular stand of the Court drew mixed responses from the masses. As many as 50 petitions were filed before the court demanding the case to be reviewed by a larger bench.