Most of the agamic temples are now open to people of all castes and there’s nothing that stops a Dalit from becoming an officiating priest in an agamic temple. However, many village temples across Tamil Nadu, which are under the control of various dominant intermediate castes, still shut their doors to Dalits. Doesn’t the State’s mute response to these atrocities call for judicial intervention? With hereditary practices and religious rulebooks discriminatory on caste/gender issues and the government looking the other way, why is the judiciary hesitating to take up the challenge of making religious institutions non-discriminatory along the lines of what is stated in the Constitution? — Swapna Ganesan, Tambaram
The right to religious belief and practice, guaranteed under the Constitution, is often misinterpreted by the courts. However, the Parliament has the power to remove obscurantist practices and bring about reforms. But vote bank politics inhibits them to bring in laws of reform. Hence the burden falls on the higher courts to decide what is an essential part of religion and an integral part of it. In doing so, the highest court has fallen prey to majoritarian notions, not balancing competing claims strictly in accordance with the law. That a review petition questioning a five-judge bench decision on women’s rights to worship in Sabarimala is yet to be heard by a nine-judge bench for the last 4 years is the sad part of it all. Further reform in any religious practices must essentially come from people and not by law.