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Indian court rules temple must allow all women entry

The decision is the latest by the Supreme Court in recent weeks to reflect a more liberal outlook in the largely conservative and traditional society of 1.25 billion people.

FILE: The Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala. Picture: AFP

NEW DELHI - India’s top court on Friday revoked a ban on women entering a temple following a 20-year legal battle, ruling that patriarchy cannot be allowed to trump faith.

The decision is the latest by the Supreme Court in recent weeks to reflect a more liberal outlook in the largely conservative and traditional society of 1.25 billion people.

Women in India have been intensifying campaigns in recent years to be allowed to enter Hindu temples and other religious sites.

The Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala - the subject of Friday’s ruling and considered one of the holiest for Hindus - has traditionally barred all women of menstruating age, between 10 and 50.

The temple’s rule emanated from the still widely-held belief in India that menstruating women are impure. In rural pockets of the country, many women are still made to sleep and eat separately during menstruation.

The custom in the temple in the southern state of Kerala was challenged by a clutch of petitioners who argued that women cannot be denied the constitutional right to worship.

“To treat women as children of a lesser god is to blink at the constitution itself,” said Justice DY Chandrachud, part of the five-judge bench that gave a majority verdict on Friday.

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said banning the entry of women was discriminatory and violated their rights.

“Prohibiting women (from entering the temple) violates the right of a woman to worship and practise religion,” he said.

In 2016, hundreds of women campaigned in Maharashtra state to successfully end a ban on women entering the Shani Shingnapur temple.

Women were also prevented from entering Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah mausoleum until the high court scrapped the rule in 2016.

Earlier in September, the top court scrapped a ban on gay sex dating back to 1861, and on Thursday it said adultery would cease to be a crime.

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