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  • Anjali Yadav


Anjali Yadav,

University of Allahabad

Case Name

Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors vs. The State of Kerala & Ors. 


Writ Petition (Civil) No 373 of 2006 


Supreme Court


Justice. Deepak Mishra, Justice. A.N. Khanwilkar, Justice. Rohintan Nariman, Justice. Indu Malhotra, Justice .D.Y. Chandrachud 


The Sabarimala temple in Kerala is a pilgrimage for Hindus, where Lord Ayyappa is worshipped and attracts millions of visitors every year. The Sabarimala temple case revolves around the age-old tradition of prohibiting women who are of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, India. The legal dispute started when the Young Lawyers Association of India filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) claimed that the tradition was discriminatory and unconstitutional. The situation escalated to India’s highest court, which made a historical decision in 2018 to ban, ruling it as violation of basic rights.


Summary of facts:- 

• The Sabarimala Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, is located in the Periyar Tiger Reserve oIn mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. It prohibits the entry of women in their

‘menstruating years’ (between the ages of 10-50), on the ground that it is a temple of worship.

• In 2006, Indian Young Lawyers Association filed a public Interest litigation petition before the Supreme Court challenging the Sabarimala Temple’s custom of excluding women. The Association argued that the custom violates the rights to equality under Article 14 and freedom of religion under Article 25[i] [ii] of female worshippers.

• The State argued that the Temple’s pandits have the final authority in this matter The Travancore Devaswom Board, has the legal authority to manage the Sabarimala Temple’s administration.  Article 26 of the constitution, guarantees a religious denomination the right to manage its own internal religious affairs. Moreover, the Sabarimala custom was protected by Rule 3(b)[iii] . The rule allowed the exclusion of women from public places Of worship, if the exclusion was based on ‘custom.

• In 1991, the outcome challenged before the Kerala High Court in S. Mahendran v. The Secretary, Travancore. The Court ruled that the exclusion was constitutional and justified, as it was a long-standing custom prevailing.

• On August 18, 2006, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the parties. On March 7, 2008, the matter was referred to his three-judge bench. The hearing took place seven years later, on January 11, 2016. On February 20, 2017, the court announced its intention to refer the case to the Constitutional Court.

Finally, on October 13, 2017, a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R. Bhanumati and Justice Ashok Bhushan direct the Constitution Bench to decide the case. On September 28, 2018, the

Constitutional Court gave its judgment.

• In 4:1 majority, the court ruled that Sabarimala exclusion of women violated the fundamental of women between the ages of 10-50 years and Rule 3(b) of the Public Worship Rules was unconstitutional. Justice Indu Malhotra delivering opinion observed that in a secular polity, it was not for the Courts to interfere In matters of religion and the same must be left to those practicing the religion.

Petitioner’s argument 

The petitioner, Indian Young Lawyers Association, presented arguments4 challenging the practice of restricting women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple: -

• The petitioner’s argued in this case primarily revolved around challenging the temple’s practice of prohibiting women aged 10 to 50 from entering. They contended that this restriction was not an essential part of Hindu religion and, therefore, not protected under the freedom of religion clauses of the Indian Constitution. Additionally, since the temple is managed by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which receives public funds, it cannot claim to be a separate religious denomination exempt from constitutional principles. The practice was also deemed discriminatory against women, violating their right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution. Finally, the petitioners present that the practice went against constitutional morality and the principles of equality, non-discrimination, and gender justice. In landmark judgment, the Supreme Court allowed the entry of women of all ages, emphasizing their constitutional rights and the non-discriminatory secular religion practices.

Respondent’s argument 

The respondent, represented by the Travancore Devaswom Board, articulated arguments in defence of the traditional practices of prohibiting women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple.

• The respondents contended that Lord Ayyappa, the deity of the Sabarimala Temple, is a jurist who enjoys fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution. They based this claim on two arguments: first, that under Hindu religion, an idol acquires life after installation; and second, since the Sabarimala temple pay taxes, the deity has their right under the Constitution.

•  The respondents argued that Lord Ayyappa’s “celibate status” needs constitutional protection. They asserted that the deity has a *Fundamental Right under Article 25 (1) to practice ‘Brahmacharya’,  and this right is allegedly violated by the entry of menstruating women inside the temple.

 Additionally, they claimed that the deity has a right to privacy under Article 21.

• The respondents emphasized that the temple’s traditions determine its religious denomination. They argued that denominational rights are not contingent on the public character of a place of worship. Even though people from different religions visit the temple, it primarily represents a denomination of Ayyappa devotees.

• Also as per traditions, there devotees must first visit a mosque before entering, the respondents highlighted that “spiritual communality” indicates the character of a religious denomination.[iv]  


• Whether the exclusionary practice, which is based upon the biological factor exclusive to the female gender amounts to discrimination and violates very core of Articles14, 15 and 17 and not protected by morality as used in Articles 25 and 26 of Indian constitution?

• Whether the practice of exclusion of women is essential religious practice or not as per Article 25?

•Whether rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu places of Public Worship acts which allowed a Religious denomination to exclude women violate of Article 14 and 15(3)?

• Whether the Ayyappa Temple is ‘Religious denomination’ under Article 26 of Indian constitution? If yes, then whether such denomination managed and administered by statutory body and financed under Article 290A of Indian constitution, is allowed to indulge in such derogatory practices violating constitutional morality/principles guaranteed under Articles 14, 15(3) ,39(a) and 51A[v].


In the Sabarimala Temple Entry Case, the judgment was delivered by a Constitution Bench comprises of five judges of the Supreme Court. Each judge provided their individual opinions, which collectively formed the judgment.7  In September,2018, the decision to turned the ban was a landmark moment, affirming that access to a place of worship cannot be restricted on the basis of gender. The dissenting opinion by Justice Indu Malhotra, however, pointed out the complexity of the issue, suggesting that the courts should not interfere in matters of religious belief and that such issues should be left to the practitioners of the faith.

Devotion Can’t Be Subject To Discrimination”: Judges’ Sabarimala Verdict8 

This case serves as a reminder of the ongoing dialogue between tradition and constitutional values, and the need to balance religious freedoms with the rights of individuals, especially in a diverse and pluralistic society like India. It also underscores the role of the judiciary in interpreting the constitution in a manner that promotes gender equality and upholds the dignity of all individuals.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra: 

Emphasized the importance of upholding constitutional values and fundamental rights.

Stressed the need to eliminate discrimination against women in religious practices.

Asserted that religious practices cannot override the principle of gender equality enshrined in the Constitution.

Justice R.F. Nariman: 

He advocated for gender equality and non-discrimination in religious matters.

Argued that the restriction on the entry of women of menstruating age violates their fundamental rights. Highlighted the role of the judiciary in ensuring the protection of constitutional rights.

Justice A.M. Khanwilkar: 

Supported the majority opinion that the practice of barring women from entering the Sabarimala Temple is unconstitutional.

Underlined the need to balance religious freedoms with fundamental rights, also gender equality.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud: 

Provided a detailed analysis of constitutional principles and legal precedents supporting gender equality. Criticized the notion of purity associated with menstruation, arguing that it perpetuates gender discrimination.

Asserted that religious practices must evolve in accordance with constitutional values to ensure equality for all individuals.

Justice Indu Malhotra: 

She dissented from the majority opinion, argued that the court should not interfere in matters of religious beliefs and practices.

Stressed the significance of religious autonomy and the need to respect the traditions and beliefs of devotees and suggested that the issue should be left to be resolved through societal reforms rather than judicial intervention.

The practice of preventing the women’s entry In Sabarimala temple was held unconstitutional with a majority of 4:1. It held practice to be violative of Articles 14, 15, 19(1), 21 and 25(1) which guarantee the fundamental rights to equality, liberty and freedom of religion. Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act was declared as  unconstitutional. Rule 3(b) enabled the Hindu denominations prohibiting women from public places of worship, if the it was based on ‘custom’. The Sabarimala judgment sparked both protests and celebrations. It highlighted the balance between religious practices and individual rights. 


Freedoms related to religion are essential elements for the functioning of democracy in a country like India. The Sabarimala verdict[vi] serves as a reminder that the quest for equality and justice is an ongoing journey, and it requires collective action from all segments of society to create a more inclusive and equitable world. The court emphasized the importance of gender equality and non-discrimination, stating that religious customs cannot justify discrimination against women. The Sabarimala verdict continues to spark debate, raising questions about religious freedoms, gender equivalency, and indigenous rights. While the judgment supported the principle of equivalency, it also urged conversations about judicial intervention in religious matters, with critics arguing for the autonomy of religious institutions.


•  Gupta, S. (no date) Case comment on Indian Young Lawyers Association v. the … Available at:

•What is the Sabarimala case? (2018) The Indian Express. Available at: (Accessed: 04 May 2024). 

(August 2022).The Sabarimala verdict. Available at: (Accessed: 06 May 2024). 

[i] Sabarimala Temple: India’s Supreme Court lifts ban on women entering temple 

[ii] “Sabarimala verdict: SC upheld Constitution in letter and spirit by giving preference to equality in recent judgments” 

[iii] Of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 (“Public Worship Rules

[iv] 1957) The Sabarimala Temple arson case : enquiry report of Sri K. Kesava Menon (Deputy Inspector-General of Police on Special Duty).  

[vi] “Sabarimala Temple protests: What is happening in Kerala?" The Indian Express.3May2024

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