A 5-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Nariman, Justice Khanwilkar, Justice Chandrachud, and Justice Malhotra on Thursday referred the Sabarimala review pleas to a 7-member larger bench by a 3:2 verdict. Reacting to the verdict, Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly and Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala stated that the stand of the United Democratic Front (UDF) has been “vindicated”.
Chennithala further stated, “We are the one to approach the Supreme Court first to file the review petition and the option is open now as the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench has moved the case to a higher bench.” He further went on to state that the current state government should maintain status quo, and let the festival season pass by peacefully.
The CJI contended that it was time that the SC evolved a judicial policy to do justice to constitutional principles. He mentioned that in a legal framework, the courts should tread carefully with issues regarding religious practices. Noting that the endeavour of the petitioner was to revive the debate on what constitutes an integral part of religion, the CJI questioned whether a constitutional court could interfere in the matters of faith. On the other hand, the dissenting judgment by Justice Nariman and Justice Chandrachud stated that the issue before the bench was not that of Muslim women or Parsi women. While admitting that bonafide criticism of the judgement was permissible, Justice Nariman made it clear that thwarting the orders of the court could not be countenanced.
On September 28, 2018, the SC lifted the ban on entry of women belonging to all age groups in the Sabarimala temple. This sparked off huge protests across Kerala. The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) which manages the shrine, argued that the SC could not interfere with a century-old belief. The ban on entry of women has been justified on the grounds that Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity is celibate. On the other hand, the government of Kerala supported the verdict maintaining that religious practices that clashed with fundamental rights could be set aside. After hearing the review petition filed by the TDB, Pandalam Royal Family and a group of devotees, the Constitution bench had reserved its verdict on February 5.