This post is a part of our 10 Cases the Shaped India in 2019 series.
In September 2018, the Supreme Court declared the Sabarimala Temple’s custom of excluding women in their ‘menstruating years’ from entering the Temple to be unconstitutional. It reasoned that the Temple’s custom violated the fundamental right to freedom of religion of female worshippers. The judgment resulted in mass protests in Kerala and was immediately challenged in over 50 Review Petitions.
What were the expected outcomes in the Review Petitions?
Based on the hearings, we predicted the following outcomes (and their likelihood) in the Review Petitions:
What did the Court actually do?
In an unprecedented move, by a narrow 3:2 majority, the Court decided to keep the Petitions pending. In doing so, it referred certain overarching constitutional questions related to right to religion and equality to a larger bench.
The Court issued the referral in part on the ground that similar questions have arisen in other pending cases. It held that this overlap of issues may warrant a referral later. Justices R.F. Nariman and D.Y. Chandrachud dissented, observing that it was beyond the scope of the Court’s narrow review jurisdiction to consider whether similar issues were before other benches and if these benches may make a referral in the future.
Source: Mir Suhail, News18
On 6 January 2020, the Registrar of the Supreme Court announced the composition of the Bench which will hear the overarching constitutional questions. It comprises Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, Nageswara Rao, Mohan Shantanagoudar, S. Abdul Nazeer, R. Subhash Reddy, Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai and Surya Kant.
On 13 January, the Bench convened for its first hearing and the CJI suggested that all the counsels should hold a conference to reframe the issues as suggested by the Review Bench. Further, he said this conference could be used to decide which counsel will argue on which issue.