“Can One Right Override The Other,” Asks Arun Jaitley Amid Sabarimala Row

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New Delhi:

Can one fundamental right override the other, asked Union minister Arun Jaitley as he spoke on what he called as the "global debate between constitutionalists and devotees". The finance minister, who has been critical of some of the recent judgments by the Supreme Court, including the one that allowed women of all ages to enter Kerala's famous Sabarimala temple, said that "the constitutionalists believe that first there is the Supreme Court and thereafter there is a god, but devotees feel otherwise".

"This is a global debate, not just in India. There will always be grey areas and the reconciliation between the two will always be a challenge," Mr Jaitley said.

The top court's verdict on the entry of women of all ages into celibate god Lord Ayyappa's temple was earlier called "selective" by Mr Jaitley.

"If you want to take a progressive step under article 14 and 21, it will apply uniformly against all religions. It cannot happen that you select a practice and apply it because that will have many social consequences in a pluralistic society like India," the minister said.

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However, it is easier for societies to reform through their own processes rather than by mandates of governments or others, he said on Saturday.

"When it comes to rituals and traditions, unless a practice is hostile to human values, using one set of fundamental rights to 'extinguish' the other will perhaps create further challenges," the BJP leader said.

It isn't clear whether by "challenges" he meant the protests that turned violent during the five-day window when the doors of the Sabarimala temple were open, but he emphasised that the same Constituent Assembly which gave the right of equality and dignity, also gave the right to religion and right to administer religious institutions.

"Can one fundamental right override the other? Can one subsume the other? Can one extinguish the other? The answer is no. Both have to exist and therefore both have to harmoniously coexist," the minister said.

The minister's colleague and BJP national chief Amit Shah, however, wasn't so subtle when he said that the party was standing "like a rock" behind devotees who protested in Sabarimala to "save their tradition".

Mr Shah also accused Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's Left government of misusing the Sabarimala issue.

"Today in Kerala, a struggle is going on between religious beliefs and state government's cruelty. The Left government in Kerala has misused the Sabarimala issue. They have used it to arrest workers and supporters of the BJP and other political parties," he said while terming the Sabarimala protests as "aastha ke liye sangharsh (struggle to save tradition)" during a rally at Kerala's Kannur.

The Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala has traditionally barred all women of menstruating age. The temple's rule followed the belief that menstruating women are "impure". The custom in the temple was challenged by petitioners who argued that women cannot be denied the constitutional right to worship.

In a four-one majority verdict, the top court revoked restrictions on women entering the temple following a 20-year legal battle, ruling that patriarchy cannot be allowed to trump faith.

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