A Supreme Court Bench Will Review 60 Petitions Related To Women And Religious Practises. The Bench Includes One Woman. One!
I started menstruating at the age of 13. Since then, my parents have been telling me it isn’t right for a menstruating girl to enter a temple or do anything related to God. This always annoyed me – I am not a very religious person – it just pissed me off , this discrimination. I know of houses in my community that make their women sit in one corner of the house when they are menstruating. They can’t walk around, enter the kitchen or even sleep in their own beds. It is utterly ridiculous how even today people don’t understand that menstruating is as normal a concept as breathing, and it has nothing to do with God.
What I just described above is the issue on an extremely micro level. It is something ever individual woman has heard multiple times, while some might conform, others definitely do not. Now, let’s talk about how this feminist issue, on a macro level, that has reached the Supreme Court.
What is the Sabrimala Case?
Sabrimala temple in Kerala is dedicated to Lord Ayyapa. It is one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage spots in India that sees a whopping 50 million people every year. In 1990, a petition was filed in the Kerala High Court to ban the entry of women into the temple, the court upheld this petition. However, in 2006 a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by the Indian Young Lawyers Association seeking entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 in the Sabrimala Temple.
Though the temple management opposed this decision by saying that this wasn’t discrimination as Lord Ayyapa was celibate, the Kerala government was in favour of lifting the ban. In 2018, as per the decision made by a five-judge bench of the SC, the ban was struck down and women of all ages could enter the temple. Now, you would think that is a victory, right? But nope, the women who tried to enter the temple were faced with ridiculous security issues and not to mention, a huge number of followers camped outside the temple to prevent the entry of women.
Currently, women are technically allowed to enter the temple since the stay has been lifted by the Supreme Court, but they face a lot of backlash from the mob who are severely against this decision.
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) January 13, 2020
Now in what is seemingly good news, the Apex Court has issued a nine-judge bench to review 60 petitions relating to women discrimination as part of the Faith v/s Rights debate. The bench is scheduled to commence from today and they will hear pleas relating not only the entry of women of all ages into the Sabrimala Temple but also other alleged contentious issues of discrimination against women.
This bench will be looking at and revisiting some of the most exhausting problems women in India face when it comes to religious practices. This includes pleas filed by Bohra Muslim women against the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, Parsi women (who have married outside their community) regarding their entry into fire temples or Agyaris and their right to inheritance, and a plea filed by Muslim women seeking entry into mosques and dargahs.
The bench will hear broader questions which are likely to arise in pending cases relating to right of women to enter mosques, right of Parsi women (who had married outside community) to access fire temples, constitutionality of FGM etc.
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) January 13, 2020
When we heard this was happening, we were extremely excited for we thought this time women actually stand a chance at justice. The nine-judge bench that will be led by CJI SA Bobde constitutes of Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, M M Shantanagoudar, S A Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant.
Now, do you see our problem with this bench? Allow me to point it out for you- there is one woman (Justice R Banumathi) and eight men deciding the fate of some major issues concerning women. Of course, it is great that with the rising awareness of women’s rights, the Supreme Court has decided to put a rest to all discrimination in relation to religious practice issues. But exactly how can we expect a bench with a majority of men to even understand these problems, let alone empower women?
Why wasn’t the bench for women made more inclusive of women? Apart from Justice R Banumathi, currently, there are three more judges in the Supreme Court who are women- Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerji. Justice Indu Malhotra was excluded from this bench since she was a part of the original judgment bench and Justice Indira Banerji was not a part of this nine-judge bench because she is relatively new. So only Justice R Banumathi was included, which is kind of discriminatory in itself. Besides, remind me again why there are only three women judges in the highest court of our country?
Just like all the issues faced by women in this country, the fate of these 60 petitions lies in the hands of a bunch of men. Yep, that definitely is justice served for those women who are fighting tooth and nail for their rights.
As amazing as the intention behind this bench is, for it to work correctly it has got to be more inclusive.