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Meenakshi Lekhi demands bill granting denominational status to Sabarimala temple, says that the private member bill is defective

She said that religious practices must be differentiated from civil practices and the practices in Sabarimala are religious in nature.

In the first session of the Lok Sabha after BJP’s victory in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi demanded a bill granting denominational status to the Sabarimala temple. She also said that the private bill tabled by the Kerala MP NK Premachandran in this regard was defective.

While speaking in Parliament, Meenakshi Lekhi said that the judgement of the Supreme Court in September in 2018 denied the special denominational status for the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple. As a result, the rituals and practices that were exclusive to the temple have been denied.

She then explains that in the absence of this status, Article 26 which gives exclusive rights to every religious denomination has been denied to this temple.

A Kerala MP from the UDF had earlier moved a private member’s bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s verdict on Sabarimala. Talking about this bill the Delhi MP said that the bill was defective because the bill would still not give a denominational status to the temple.

She said that Hindu religious institutions would suffer due to the Sabarimala verdict. In the Hindi version of the Constitution, the word ‘denomination’ is translated as ‘sampradaya’ which is a Hindu denomination. Meenakshi Lekhi said that if sampradaya can be protected then Hindu institutions can ensure that their practices are protected.

Responding to several MPs who raised the issue of triple talaq with respect to that of Sabarimala, she said that the Constitution talks about ‘Uniform Civil Code’ and not ‘Uniform Religious Code’. She says that religious practices must be differentiated from civil practices and the practices in Sabarimala are religious in nature.

She also said that there are several festivals such as ‘Attukal Pongala’ where men weren’t allowed. If such practices were to be protected then it’s important to define what are ‘denominational practices’.

She said that the defective private member bill “would only serve the optics” creating headlines in the news down south. She finally said that the legislative body must understand this difference and said that with the review petition pending, the focus must be on defining ‘denominational practices’. She then ended her speech by chanting ‘Jai Ayyappa’.

The BJP in its 2019 Lok Sabha election Manifesto had promised to protect the practices of Sabarimala. Prime Minister Modi has also earlier voiced his support for the devotees of Ayyappa, saying that it is a matter of tradition which is different from Triple Talaq.

On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court delivered a verdict allowing women of all ages entry into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. The verdict had hurt the sentiments of the devotees and triggered a countrywide protest. The Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that it would not be filing a review petition and would ensure the SC order is implemented, angering devotees.

In February, the Supreme Court had reserved its judgement after hearing about 65 review petitions.

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