A private member bill has been introduced by NK Premachandran, a Member of Parliament from Kerala, that seeks to overturn the effect of Supreme Court’s verdict granting women in the age group of 10-50 years the right to enter the Sabarimala temple.

Justice DY Chandrachud had held that this prejudice against women is based on the perception of menstruation as something impure and polluted. He termed it a form of exclusion no different from untouchability, which is unconstitutional.

Now, this bill called the ‘Sabarimala Sreedharma Sastha Temple (Special Provisions) Act, 2019’ has been introduced to restore the ban through Section 3 of the bill which states that all religious practices are to be restored to the ones that existed on the 1st of September, 2018 (before the Supreme Court Verdict), regardless of any judgement, decree or order passed to the contrary.

The Act goes even further to cover that any pending suit, appeal or any proceeding in relation to the religious practices of Sabarimala Sreedharma Sastha Temple before any tribunal or court “shall abate, and no suit, appeal or other proceedings with any such matters shall lie on or after the commencement in any court, tribunal or other authority”. This applies to any proceedings that are filed on the grounds that changes have been brought to the religious practices of the temple after 1st September 2018.

Next, section 4 of the Act provides that any ” Conversions” to be brought to the religious practices of the temple will be done so in accordance to the “tradition custom, existed on or before 1st of September, 2018″.

The bill further puts the responsibility on the Government, both central and the State of Kerala, to make sure that religious practices are enforced.

When the Private bill was introduced, the Chairperson of Lok Sabha happened to be Meenakshi Lekhi who declared the bill as ” Defective” whereas the MP himself introduced the bill as “historic”.

When permission to speak briefly by sought by the MP after the motion had been adopted, the Chairperson refused.

Meenakshi Lekhi herself, however, spoke on the issue briefly as a member of the House an hour before this to clarify the defect in the bill. She mentioned that no Special denomination status has been applied in this case, which results in the religious practices being denied. According to her, Hindu temples and Institutions suffer because of this judgment while the Hindi translation of Article 26 of the Constitution reads as “Sampradaya”. The rituals and practices of Hindu temples can be protected if sampradaya can be protected.

She talks of festivals like Attukal and Pongala where men are not allowed and for their, protection House needs to define what “denominational practices are”.Without this distinction, the defective bill serves no purpose other than that of catching newspaper headlines.

She emphasized on the need for debate regarding what constitutes Denominational practices and further, the need to protect the Ayyappa worshipers and their rituals.

Another Member of Parliament who represents the constituency of Pathanamthitta, spoke about the uproar that the verdict caused not only in his constituency, which hosts almost five crores Ayyappa Worshipers every year, but also the entire country. He mentioned that the Sabarimala Shrine is the world’s second largest Pilgrim place and that the customs of this temple are a matter of faith and have little to do with gender issues. This diversion from the customs has hurt the pilgrims and the rituals practised by the devotees. He also garnered support from the dissenting judge in this case that Article 26 of the Constitution provides the right for every religious denominational to manage its own affairs and that this verdict has suppressed the voices of the religious institution while depriving them of this right.

However, another point to be noted while this bill is under consideration is that a 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court has emphasised that legislative powers cannot be used so as to overturn the judgment passed after consideration of all due facts. Only later judicial proceedings may alter the decision.

India Law Review is available on WhatsApp and Telegram. For real-time updates on stories, subscribe on WhatsApp and Telegram