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KK Venugopal tried his best to defend gender discrimination at Sabarimala today

Defending gender discrimination: An uphill struggle
Defending gender discrimination: An uphill struggle

The afternoon hearing at Court No 4 of the Supreme Court on the entry of women to Sabarimala temple got interesting with senior counsel for the temple board, KK Venugopal, comparing the discrimination at Sabarimala with similar classification on the basis of gender in other areas of activity.

He referred to advertisement by armed forces which prefers men between the ages of 20 and 24 alone for recruitment under a particular category. Posing the question whether such a classification only on the ground of gender and age group is valid, he said, what is expected here is the quality of endurance, which only men of that age group possess.

He then referred to the army camp at Siachen, which requires highest degree of endurance, and said ordinary people can’t withstand the weather there.

He then asked whether we could call it discrimination if the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) spends money only on young people below 30 years of age, so as to train them for playing better cricket.

He then cited other instances like recruiting women nurses in hospitals only on the basis of sex, or recruiting male nurses in mental hospitals, to drive home his point that if in one the attributes of compassion or dedication are expected only from women nurses, in mental hospitals, only male nurses are expected to control patients who may be violent.

Venugopal then said these instances show that if the temple authorities believe that women devotees at Sabarimala are not expected to observe penance for 41 days, because they cannot perform the rituals associated with the puja, then it appears reasonable.

Justice Dipak Misra then asked whether a biological phenomenon like menstruation could be a condition precedent for worship at a temple.

To this, Venugopal cited Article 15 (2) (a) and (b) - dealing with prohibition of discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth or any of them - to suggest that the Constitution-framers deliberately omitted places of public worship from the list of access to public places given here, taking into account the religious diversity in the country.

Thus Article 15(2) (a) and (b) says no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

During the hearing, Justice Dipak Misra asked the counsel for information about the temple dedicated to the worship of Duryodhan in Kerala, and narrated the story behind the temple, which he partly remembered from reading a book.

The hearing will continue next Monday, 2 May.

Photo by Sailesh

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