India: Top court to reconsider women, Hinduism and temples | News | DW | 14.11.2019
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India: Top court to reconsider women, Hinduism and temples

Conservative Hindus want India's Supreme Court to reinstate a ban on women entering a Hindu temple. In response, the court has promised to set new laws regarding women and religion.

India's Supreme Court will set law on women entering places of worship after it was asked to review a 2018 decision to lift a ban on women entering a Hindu temple in the southern state of Kerala.

The court said Thursday that it will appoint a seven-judge bench to look into the case. 

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the court was deferring review of its decision on women entering the Sabarimala temple. Instead, it is choosing to focus on larger questions about women and religion in India, including topics such as Muslim and Parsi women entering religious practices, as well as genital mutilation.

Violent history

Until last year, the Sabarimala temple in Kerala had forbidden women of child-bearing age — between 10 and 50 years old — from entering. The measure was intended to protect the celibacy of the temple's deity, the Hindu god Ayyappa.

Traditionally, Hinduism also views menstruating women as unclean and forbids them from participating in religious ceremonies.

In September 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sabarimala ban did not qualify as essential religious practice and that it violated women's right to freedom of religion.

Watch video 02:08

Entry of women in Sabarimala sparks clashes

Violent protests erupted following the decision. Hundreds of demonstrators blocked around a dozen women from entering the shrine. Street battles with the police broke out and protesters assaulted women trying to enter. Only two of the women, escorted by police, managed to enter the temple.

Gradual change

Several groups have since petitioned the court to review the decision. They argue that the temple is a matter of faith and religious belief and that constitutional morality cannot be applied in these circumstances.

Read more: India's 'witches' victims of superstition and poverty

Currently, it is still legal for women to enter the temple. Justice Gogoi said the topic is part of a larger debate in Indian society. The deeply conservative country has slowly expanded women's rights in recent years. 

sri, kp/aw (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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