Sabarimala Temple Case: Upholding Gender Equality and Religious Freedom

Case Title: Indian Young Lawyers’ Association v. State of Kerala

Date of Judgment: 29th September 2018


  • Justice Dipak Misra
  • Justice A.M. Khanwilkar
  • Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman
  • Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud
  • Justice Indu Malhotra


Welcome to the official blog of the Law Offices of Kr. Vivek Tanwar Advocate and Associates, where we are dedicated to providing litigation support services for matters related to gender justice and equality in India. In today’s blog post, we aim to shed light on the prevailing issues surrounding Gender Justice and Equality, the legal framework for their protection, and the steps we can take as a society to combat these acts. Join us as we explore this critical subject and empower you with the knowledge to protect your rights and safety.

In a watershed moment for gender equality and religious freedom, the Sabarimala Temple case was a pivotal legal battle heard by a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court and subsequently referred to a Constitution Bench. The heart of the matter was the constitutionality of Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965 (KHPW Act), which barred women between the ages of 10-50, those of menstruating age, from entering the Sabarimala Temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappan. The Court was tasked with evaluating whether this rule infringed upon women’s right to religious freedom as guaranteed by Article 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.

The Majority Decision

The majority verdict in this case struck down Rule 3(b) as unconstitutional. It contended that the rule deprived women of their right to religious freedom under Article 25(1) and could not be justified as an essential religious practice of a separate religious denomination. The Court found that the devotees of Lord Ayyappa did not constitute a separate religion. The judgment emphasized that any practice segregating individuals based on biological characteristics could not be constitutional, as it violated women’s dignity, freedom, and autonomy. The Court underscored that a woman’s menstrual status was a deeply personal and private matter, and any compulsory disclosure violated her right to privacy under Article 21.

Case in Brief

Background: The case revolved around the Sabarimala shrine, a Hindu temple in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappan. Tradition excluded women aged 10-50 from entering the temple, as it was dedicated to a celibate God, and their presence was believed to violate the value of celibacy. This exclusion was sanctioned by Rule 3(b) of the KHPW Act, which prohibited women from entering during the time they were not allowed to enter a place of public worship by custom and usage.

Key Issues: The case addressed several critical questions:

  • Was the exclusionary practice based on a biological factor, exclusive to women, discriminatory, and a violation of constitutional articles?
  • Could the practice of excluding these women be considered an essential religious practice and be protected by the right to manage religious affairs?
  • Did the Ayyappa Temple constitute a religious denomination, and could it violate constitutional morality?
  • Was Rule 3(b) of the KHPW Rules unconstitutional, and if considered valid, did it violate Part III of the Constitution?

Legal Arguments: The petitioners argued that the exclusion was arbitrary and lacked constitutional basis. They also contested that the devotees of Lord Ayyappa did not form a separate religious denomination. An intervening application argued that compulsory disclosure of menstrual status violated women’s right to privacy.

The respondents contended that Rule 3(b) was constitutional, targeting a specific age group for a particular purpose. Amicus Curiae argued that Lord Ayyappa devotees constituted a religious sect and were exempt from reform provisions. Another Amicus Curiae contended that the exclusionary practice violated the right to dignity and privacy.

The Verdict: In a 4:1 verdict, the Supreme Court declared the restrictions on women aged 10-50 entering the Sabarimala shrine unconstitutional and nullified Rule 3(b) of the KHPW Act. The Court also issued directives to ensure the safety of women pilgrims at the shrine. The majority concluded that Lord Ayyappa devotees did not constitute a separate religious denomination and that the exclusion of women was not an essential religious practice. The Court found Rule 3(b) ultra vires the KHPW Act’s aim, which aimed to make Hindu places of worship accessible to all. The Court also ruled that Rule 3(b) of the KHPW Rules was unconstitutional, violating Part III of the Indian Constitution.

Supreme Court’s Observations

The Supreme Court’s observations in the Sabarimala Temple case illuminated the path to gender justice and equality:

  • Upholding Constitutional Rights: The Court emphatically affirmed that women possess the same constitutional rights as men and cannot be subjected to discrimination based on gender, age, or biological factors.
  • Religious Practices and Constitutional Morality: The judgment highlighted that age-old customs perpetuating gender discrimination must be scrutinized in light of constitutional principles that guarantee equality and non-discrimination.
  • Reforming Religious Practices: The Court urged society to reassess and reform regressive practices that hindered the empowerment of women and obstructed their participation in places of worship.
  • Inclusivity and Equal Access: The Court recognized that women’s exclusion from places of worship based on biological factors perpetuated stereotypes and impeded their right to religious freedom.

The Impact and Aftermath

The Sabarimala Temple case has had a profound impact on various aspects of Indian society:

  • Celebrating Women’s Agency: The judgment celebrated women’s autonomy and agency, acknowledging their right to participate in religious practices on an equal footing with men.
  • Legal Precedent for Gender Equality: The judgment established a formidable legal precedent that prioritizes gender equality and individual rights over age-old customs.
  • Social Awakening and Discourse: The case ignited a nationwide debate on women’s rights, gender equality, and the need for inclusive religious practices.
  • Empowerment and Inclusivity: The judgment reinforced the need for religious institutions to promote inclusivity and empower women to exercise their rights without discrimination.

Challenges and Ongoing Efforts

Despite the significant progress made by the Sabarimala Temple case, several challenges persist:

  • Cultural Resistance: Overcoming deeply ingrained cultural norms and patriarchal attitudes that hinder gender equality remains an ongoing challenge.
  • Implementation and Compliance: Ensuring the effective implementation of the judgment and garnering compliance from religious institutions is crucial.
  • Awareness and Education: Raising awareness and educating communities about gender equality and women’s rights are essential steps towards societal change.
  • Balancing Tradition and Equality: Striking a balance between religious practices and constitutional principles continues to be a complex challenge.


The Sabarimala Temple case represents a monumental chapter in India’s journey toward gender justice and equality. The Supreme Court’s observations affirmed the rights and dignity of women, underscoring the importance of constitutional principles over discriminatory customs. The case prompted nationwide conversations on women’s rights and the need to challenge age-old practices that perpetuated gender-based discrimination. However, the struggle for gender equality and social justice is ongoing, requiring sustained efforts to dismantle discriminatory norms and ensure the empowerment and dignity of all individuals, irrespective of their gender.

We are a law firm in the name and style of Law Offices of Kr. Vivek Tanwar Advocate and Associates at Gurugram and Rewari. We are providing litigation support services for matters related to the Constitution.

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