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Freedom to pray: on Sabarimala verdict

With its Sabarimala verdict, the SC underlines the Constitution’s transformative power
The Constitution(संविधान) protects(रक्षा करना/बचाना) religious freedom in two ways. It protects an individual’s right to profess, practise and propagate(प्रचार/वंश बढ़ाना) a religion, and it also assures(भरोसा दिलाना) similar protection to every religiousdenomination(जाति/सम्प्रदाय) to manage its own affairs. The legal challenge to the exclusion(निकाल देना)of women in the 10-50 age group from the Sabarimala temple in Kerala represented(प्रतिनिधित्व करना) a conflict(संघर्ष करना) between the group rights of the temple authorities in enforcing the presiding(अध्यक्षताdeity’s(देवता ) strict celibate(ब्रह्मचर्य/कुंवारा) status and the individual rights of women to offer worship there. The Supreme Court’s ruling, by a 4:1 majority, that the exclusionary(अपवर्जनात्मक) practice violates(उल्लंघन ) the rights of women devotees establishes(स्थापित करना) the legal principle that individual freedom prevails over purported group rights, even in matters of religion. The three concurring (मेल खाना/मिलना-जुलना) opinions that form the majority have demolished the principal defences of the practice — that Sabarimala devotees have constitutionally protected denominational rights, that they are entitled(हकदार) to prevent(रोकें) the entry of women to preserve(रक्षा करना)the strict celibate nature of the deity, and that allowing women would interfere(दखल देना) with an essential religious practice. The majority held that devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination and that the prohibition(निषेध/रोक) on women is not an essential part of Hindu religion. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Indu Malhotra chose not to review the religious practice on the touchstone of gender equality or individual freedom. Her view that the court “cannot impose(थोपना/प्रभाव डालना) its morality or rationality with respect to the form of worship of a deity” accorded greater importance to the idea of religious freedom as being mainly the preserve of an institution rather than an individual’s right.

Beyond the legality of the practice, which could have been addressed solely(केवल/ही) as an issue of discrimination(भेदभाव/पक्षपात) or a tussle(संघर्ष) between two aspects(पक्ष/पहलुओं) of religious freedom, the court has also sought to grapple with thestigmatisation(दोषारोपण) of women devotees based on a medieval(पुराना/मध्यकालीन )view of menstruation as symbolising impurity(अपवित्रता/अशुद्धि) and pollution(मैलापन/प्रदूषण). The argument (तर्क/बहस) that the practice is justified because women of menstruating age would not be able to observe the 41-day period of abstinence(संयम/परहेज़) before making a pilgrimage(तीर्थाटन/तीर्थगमन) failed to impress the judges. To Chief Justice Dipak Misra, any rule based on segregation(अलगाव/पृथक्करण) of women pertaining(संबंधित) to biological characteristics(लक्षण/विशेषताएँ) is indefensible(असमर्थनीय/अन्याय्य) and unconstitutional. Devotion(भक्ति भाव) cannot be subjected to the stereotypes of gender. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said stigma built around traditional notions of impurity has no place in the constitutional order, and exclusion based on the notion of impurity is a form of untouchability(छुआछूत/अस्पृश्यता). Justice Rohinton F. Nariman said the fundamental rights claimed by worshippers based on ‘custom and usage’ must yield to the fundamental right of women to practise religion. The decision reaffirms the Constitution’s transformative character and derives strength(मज़बूती/बल) from the centrality it accords to fundamental rights.


Important Vocabulary

1.Exclusion(निकाल देना)
Synonyms: boycott, discharge, elimination, embargo, eviction
Antonyms: OK, allowance, approval, permission, ratification

2.Concurring (मेल खाना/मिलना-जुलना)
Synonyms: acquiesce, coincide, jibe, accede, accord
Antonyms: clash, disagree, deny, disallow, disapprove

Synonyms: attitude, condition, facet, form, air
Antonyms: whole

Synonyms: contamination, grime, pollutant, scum, adulteration
Antonyms: cleanliness, pureness, purification, purity, sterility

Synonyms: unforgivable, unjustifiable, untenable, bad, faulty
Antonyms: defensible, excusable, justifiable, justified

Synonyms: connected, referring, related, connected with, relevant
Antonyms: disconnected, unrelated

Synonyms: accusation, censure, denouncement, indictment, invective
Antonyms: compliment, praise, exculpation, exoneration, flattery

Synonyms: bigotry, favoritism, hatred, inequity, injustice
Antonyms: equity, fairness, impartiality, justice, tolerance




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