Day 3 Arguments

Sabarimala Temple Entry

July 24 2018

At 2.15 p.m., the Bench resumed hearing in the post lunch session. Mr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi took up the mantle from where he left. In this session, he was primarily concerned with the definitional aspects of a religious denomination and the nature of religious belief. His argumentative style was coloured by scientific precision in his manner of presentation.

His first reference was to S.P. Mittal v Union to lay down the characteristics of a religious denomination. He submitted that it includes a collection of individuals who have a system of beliefs or doctrines which they consider as conducive to their spiritual being, a common organization and a designation by a distinctive name. Flowing from the historical circumstances surrounding the Sabarimala temple, he argued that it satisfies the triple tests of a religious denomination.

He specifically referred to the 2014 case of Subramanian Swamy v Union of India wherein it was held that Smarthi Brahmins administering a temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja in the state of Tamil Nadu is a religious denomination.

Justice Nariman queried what would be Mr. Singhvi’s response if the bench does not agree that the Sabarimala is a religious denomination. Mr. Singhvi focused on Article 25. On the aspect of Article 25, Mr. Singhvi passionately argued that religion should be construed in broad manner. As an illustration of this, he specifically referred that it includes installation of the idols, conduct of the worship of the deities, place of standing of worshippers and the manner of their worship.

Mr. Singhvi then put forth that a secular judge is bound to accept the belief and cannot question the same. To buttress his point further, he cited the illustration of Attukala Pongala where only women devotees are allowed during the period of festival. He further pointed out that all mosques prohibit the entry of women. Justice Nariman responded saying that it applies to only Sunni mosques and not Shias mosques. He strenuously put forth the point that it is not anti-women and is a primarily a question of faith and belief. He queried how can the bench decide primarily a question of belief on the basis of a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution?

Justice Nariman made an insightful observation that recent religions like Buddhism, Sikhism and Bahaism don’t have restrictions unlike the older religions. Justice Chandrachud added that the restrictions reflect a patriarchal mindset. Justice Misra queried that the question is whether a public temple can enter into the concept of banning.

On the aspect of equality, Dr. Singhvi submitted that the discrimination is not against an entire class of women but only against a certain age group between 10 and 50. Therefore it is not primarily gender based. Mr. Singhvi argued that the question before the court was whether the classification between men and women in the age group of 10 to 50 has a reasonable basis.

Mr. Singhvi will continue his arguments tomorrow.