Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam: Paper - II (General Studies – I) - 10 October 2018


Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam


UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-II: General Studies - I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)

Q. “A section of people is seeking review by the Supreme Court of its verdict allowing women of all ages into Sabarimala temple.” Critically examine the Sabarimala verdict of the apex court. (250 words)

Model Answer:

Approach:

  • Why in news?
  • Introduction
  • Arguments in Favour of the verdict
  • Arguments in Against of the verdict
  • Conclusion

Why in news?

The Supreme Court, in a recent judgement, allowed women, irrespective of their age, to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple.

Introduction

The main deity Ayyappan of Sabarimala is worshipped as a celibate god. Pilgrims are expected to practice celibacy and abstinence during the 41-day vratam (pious observances). It has thus helped the shrine administrators to evade the rights test - in this case, that of women of a particular age group.

The Sabarimala temple case represented a conflict between -

  • the group rights of the temple authorities in enforcing the presiding deity’s strict celibate status
  • the individual rights of women in 10-50 age group to offer worship there

In a 4-1 majority, the court struck down provisions of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965. The Rules banned women between the age of 10 and 50from entering the Sabarimala temple, a practice in place for centuries. The judgment came over a clutch of petitions challenging the ban, which was upheld by the Kerala High Court.

Arguments in favour of the verdict

  • The right to freedom of religion of both individuals and groups is recognised as an intrinsic facet of a liberal democracy. The Constitution memorializes these guarantees in Articles 25 and 26 as –
    • Protects an individual’s right to profess, practise and propagate a religion (Art. 25)
    • Assures protection to every religious denomination to manage its own affairs (Art. 26)
  • Sabarimala case forms a part of ‘essential religious practice’ of worshippers under Article 25 of the Constitution. Matters such as who can or cannot enter the temple are covered under the rights to administer and manage religious institutions, under Article 26.
  • Not allowing women into the temple is violation of women’s rights i.e. the right of women to worship the deity, Ayyappa.
  • Discrimination based on biological reasons is not permissible going by the constitutional scheme.
  • The judgement relooks at the stigmatisation of women devotees based on a medieval view of menstruation as symbolising impurity and pollution. So much so, exclusion based on the notion of impurity is a form of untouchability.
  • The court ruled that Ayyappa devotees do not constitute a separate religious denomination (Art. 26).
  • The court held that prohibition on women is not an essential part of Hindu religion, and hence the court can intervene.
  • The judgement establishes the principle that individual freedom prevails over professed group rights, even in matters of religion.
  • Social modernisation, especially with respect to ending discriminatory traditions, is a goal that all societies must aspire for. To that end, the law catalysing change is desirable and the judgement provides that.
  • Religion cannot be cover to deny women right to worship. To treat women as children of lesser God is to blink at Constitutional morality.

Arguments in against of the verdict

The lone dissenting judge Indu Malhotra observed that –

  • What constitutes an essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide and not a matter that should be decided by the courts. The courts should intervene only if they are “pernicious, oppressive, or a social evil, like Sati.
  • Notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by courts. Constitutional morality in a secular polity gives every individual the right to practice their faith in accordance with the tenets of their religion, irrespective of whether the practice is rational or logical.
  • The equality doctrine under article 14 does not override the freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25. Religious customs and practices cannot be solely tested on the touchstone of Article 14 and the principles of rationality embedded therein.
  • The ban at Sabarimala temple was not arbitrary as this was the “only practical way of ensuring that the limited restriction on the entry of women is adhered to”.
  • This “limited restriction” on the entry of women of a certain age group does not fall within the purview of Article 17 of the Constitution since the Article pertains to untouchability based on caste prejudice. Untouchability, “literally and historically”, was never understood to apply to women as a class. It was historically intended only to protect the interests of the backward classes.
  • The petitioners in this case are not believers of the particular faith in question so permitting such PILs “in religious matters would open floodgates to interlopers” who are not followers of that faith, to question its beliefs and practices, and this would be a matter of grave concern, especially for minority communities. Therefore, such writ petition “does not deserve to be entertained” and the “grievances raised are non-justiciable”.

Conclusion

Constitutional morality is an important check on religious obscurantism but when carried to an extreme it can also be destructive of harmless variety and difference. There is a danger of reducing the Constitution itself to another unquestionable “holy book”, killing diversity in the name of countering discrimination.

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