Ides of September

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 9/29/2018 10:11:10 AM IST

 September 2018 was a hectic month for India’s top court, the Supreme Court, which gave landmark judgments on burning issues and in the aftermath, treading into so far untrodden paths. The Supreme Court removed the ban on women between 10 and 50 years of age from entering Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. The Sabarimala shrine, located northeast of Pathanamthitta in a tiger reserve, is dedicated to the Hindu deity Ayyappan. Devotees consider Ayyappan to be an eternal celibate. In its judgment the Apex court ruled that devotion can’t be subject to gender discrimination. It also held that religion can’t be used as a cover to deny women the right to worship, and that to treat women as the children of a lesser God was to blink at the Constitution. The ruling has satisfied feminists who have long held the ban on women between 10 and 50 years of age as being gender-biased and against the principle of equality under the constitution. According to legend, the ban was by Ayappa himself who refused to marry the woman who emerged out of a she demon whom he killed. It is said Ayappa will remain celibate till the day kanni swamis (first-time devotees) stop coming to Sabarimala. According to some reports, Sabarimala isn’t the only place of worship that has restrictions on women entering. The court ruling may also be used in appeals against religious practices in mosques, temples, and other places of worship that partially ban women, non-adherents, foreigners, the improperly dressed. The question is will the Court then continue to place religious practices under the lens of the constitution? The other landmark judgment of the Supreme Court was in striking down Section 497, under which, adultery was a crime which the court deemed as unconstitutional. Further the Court held that adultery can be treated as civil wrong for dissolution of marriage but cannot by any social licence, which destroys a home, be a criminal offence. A man who has been convicted under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) could be sentenced to five-year-jail term. The Section defined adultery as an offence committed by a man against a married man if the former engaged in sexual intercourse with the latter’s wife. The combined reading of the adultery laws allowed the aggrieved husband of the married woman in adulterous relationship to file a complaint. But same right was not available to an aggrieved wife if her husband was found to be in an adulterous relationship. In the other historic judgment, the Supreme Court also decriminalised homosexuality by striking down Section 377 which deemed consensual sex between same sex as unnatural and a criminal offence liable to imprisonment. The sentence ranged from imprisonment for life; or with impris¬onment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. With the Supreme Court decriminalising gay sex, India joins 125 other countries where homosexuality is legal. However, 72 countries and territories worldwide still continue to criminalise same-sex relationships, including 45 in which such relationships between women are outlawed. In all these judgments, the court has sent a strong message that it will interpret contentious practises under the lens of the constitution. That would also open the Pandora box of differing interpretations by different judges; when the constitution clearly reaffirms the principle of non-interference in religious affairs. 


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