Thiruvananthapuram: The Travancore Devaswom Board, managing the Sabarimala temple, appeared to be set for a U-turn on the issue of women’s entry to the hill shrine, with a new affidavit highlighting the importance of upholding age-old customs and rituals being readied to be submitted in the Supreme Court.
A nine-member bench, headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde is on January 13 set to begin hearing a slew of review petitions challenging the 2018 decision allowing women of all ages to enter the famous temple. The new bench does not include any of the judges who had heard the case earlier.
The Devaswom Board had earlier toed the line of the Kerala government, which had strongly favoured entry rights to all women irrespective of their age. The temple had been following an age-old custom of permitting only women outside the productive age to enter the temple.
The policy of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Front government had caused widespread protests across the state, which in turn led to a major drop in the number of pilgrims visiting the temple as well as offerings by devotees, as a result of which the Devaswom Board’s revenue had come down by over Rs100 crore during the last pilgrimage season.
The state government had to pay dearly for its pro-women’s entry policy in the Lok Sabha elections, in which the ruling front lost in all but one of the 20 seats from the state. The hard knock forced the government to re-think its policy of forcibly enforcing the right granted by the Supreme Court.
With a Supreme Court bench headed by the then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi referring a series of review petitions to a larger bench, the state government and the Devaswom Board changed the policy for the ongoing pilgrim season, under which women who turned up to make the trek to the hill shrine were persuaded to go back in view of opposition from devotees.
Devaswom minister Kadakampalli Surendran told media persons that the government was planning to constitute a committee of pundits well-versed with the customs and rituals of Sabarimala to elicit their views and frame a policy on the issue of women’s entry.
This marks a major departure from the known position of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his CPI-M party leading the Left Front in favour of reforming the practices followed at the Sabarimala temple, whose deity is supposed to be an eternal celibate, uncomfortable with the presence of women of productive age.