ucanews.com reporter, Kochi
Updated: January 13, 2016 07:56 AM GMT
Hindu devotees pray at the popular Sabarimala temple during the annual pilgrimage in this 2011 file photo. (Photo by STR/AFP)
India's Supreme Court have asked the Kerala government why women are still being barred from a centuries-old Hindu temple in southern India, re-igniting debate on the discrimination of women in religious places.
The court’s request was made during a hearing of a public interest litigation case from a group of lawyers who want the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state to halt its tradition of banning girls and women aged 10-50 years from entering.
Traditionally, the temple does not allow entry of girls after they attain puberty on the grounds that the temple's bachelor deity lord Ayyappa would disapprove.
As a custom, Hindus don't allow women to enter their temples when they are menstruating because it is considered impure to do so.
However, Sabarimala temple completely bans all women who are of a reproductive age. The temple is the most popular Hindu pilgrim center in the state.
Women groups have welcomed the court move while the official Catholic Church has reserved comments.
"It's a land mark comment by supreme court judges on gender equality," said T.N. Seema, Member of Parliament and state president of the women's wing of the Communist Party of India.
"We have been consistent in our stand that all temples be open to all women. Restrictions on women are unconstitutional," said Seema who added that any ideas that women are impure because of menstruation is "pure absurdity."
However, a senior church official, who prefers not to be named, said the official church wouldn't comment, because these would "have no witnessing value and it will not help resolve the issue."
However, Father Paul Thelakat, a senior priest and editor of church-run Satyadeepam (light of truth) weekly said he welcomed the court's views.
"Being a Catholic priest I hesitate to comment on the issue but still I completely agree with the judge in asking why women cannot enter the temple… Every religion is sadly some way male dominated, not only Hindu religion," Father Thelakat told ucanews.com.
Kummanam Rajasekharan, a Hindu leader and politician, told media that a decision on the issue can be taken after consultation with the temple's priests as well as Hindu groups in the state.
Last November, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, chief of the temple administrative board caused controversy when he said "women will be allowed into the temple only after a machine is invented to detect if they were menstruating."