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The Supreme Court will begin hearing tomorrow a batch of nearly 50 review petitions challenging its September 2018 verdict allowing women between the ages of reproductive age into the Sabarimala temple.

A five-judge constitution bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi will start hearing the case which was earlier scheduled for January 22, but had to be cancelled as Justice Indu Malhotra was on medical leave. Ever since the controversial verdict on September 29, devotees of Lord Ayyappa, the celibate god, have been protesting against Supreme Court verdict. Though the temple gates opened in the third week of October for the annual pilgrimage season, devotees stood guard to ensure that not one women entered the temple. The first women to enter was on New Years day this year when under the cover of darkness and with full support and protection of the state government and police, two women in their forties entered as transgenders. Since then, violence had broken out in many places. Some women who eventually managed to enter the temple have faced severe backlash. They are being threatened and one of them was even attacked allegedly by her mother-in-law.

The Kerala government had told the Supreme Court that as many as 51 women of menstrual age have entered the temple since the verdict, but devotees as well as activists refused to agree with the figure. State Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s determination to facilitate women’s entry into the temple triggered a political war between the state government and the opposition parties, including the BJP and the Congress.

The court had agreed to take up the matter on January 22 but then postponed after Justice Indu Malhotra was indisposed and was on leave. Justice Malhotra was a part of the five-judge Constitution bench that had pronounced the verdict overturning the centuries-old tradition of not allowing women between the ages of 10 to 50 entry into the shrine and was the sole dissenting judge in a majority 4:1 verdict. The review pleas in the Supreme Court rely heavily on her contention that “constitutional parameters of rationality cannot be blindly applied to matters of faith”.

—India Legal Bureau

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