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Caste Should Not Be A Barrier: Priest Moves Kerala High Court Against Criteria For Appointing Melshanti At Sabarimala Temple

Hannah M Varghese
16 July 2021 9:13 AM GMT
Caste Should Not Be A Barrier: Priest Moves Kerala High Court Against Criteria For Appointing Melshanti At Sabarimala Temple
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Applications were invited only from individuals belonging to Malayala Brahmin community.

A plea has been filed before the Kerala High Court challenging a notification issued by the Travancore Devaswom Board calling for applications for the post of Melshanti at the Sabarimala Dharmasastha Temple on the ground that it only invited individuals from a particular caste to apply for the post. The petitioner Vishnunarayanan CV claims to be a qualified priest who has been serving as...

A plea has been filed before the Kerala High Court challenging a notification issued by the Travancore Devaswom Board calling for applications for the post of Melshanti at the Sabarimala Dharmasastha Temple on the ground that it only invited individuals from a particular caste to apply for the post. 

The petitioner Vishnunarayanan CV claims to be a qualified priest who has been serving as a Melshanti at different temples for more than ten years. He filed the petition aggrieved by the notification dated 27th May 2021 calling for applications to the post of Santhikkaran at Sabarimala Dharmasastha Temple and Malikappuram Temple issued by the Travancore Devaswom Board, from among Malayala Brahmin community members alone.

Advocates B.G Harindranath and Santhosh Mathew will be appearing for the petitioner in the matter. 

It was contended that this condition for qualification was against the provisions of the Constitution of India, the law of the land, and the decision rendered by the Supreme Court in various instances. He submitted that the impugned notification was therefore unconstitutional and liable to be set aside.

The said notification issued by the Board stipulated several other conditions for qualification including age, education, and experience. The applicants were, inter alia, expected to have been Melshanthis of temples for a period of not less than 10 years. The notification also called for applicants with morals and no criminal antecedents. A further stipulation was that the applicants should not be physically challenged and suffer from any illness. They were further required to be conversant with Sanskrit, the rituals, rites, customs of the temple as Melshanti, and experienced in agama shastras.

According to the petitioner, he is fully qualified for the post and eligible to be appointed to the post of Melshanti at the Sabarimala Dharmasastha Temple except for the requirement of being a "Malayala Brahmin". He submitted that such a condition is entirely contrary to the noble concepts of the Constitution as enunciated in the various judgments of the Supreme Court. The appointment to the post of Melasanthi has been held to be a secular act and hence it ought not to have been confined to one particular community especially in an institution administered by the Travancore Devaswom Board, which is fully controlled by the Government of Kerala, the petition read. 

The petitioner relied on the verdict pronounced in Seshammal v. State of Tamil Nadu [(1972) 2 SC 11], where the Supreme Court categorically held that an Archaka's appointment is secular and there is no law that such appointment is governed by the usage of hereditary succession. On this ground, he argued that no reservation could be made in the matter of appointment of a priest in the Sabarimala Dharmasastha Temple and Malikappuram Temple, and that it would be directly contrary to Article 14 of the Constitution.

Reliance was also placed on Adithayan v. Travancore Devaswom Board [(2002) 8 SCC 106] where the Apex Court observed that caste is no barrier for a person to become a priest in the temple administered by the Board.

Accordingly, the petitioner prayed before the Court to declare that all persons of Hindu religion having the other qualifications except that of Malayala Brahmin are entitled to be appointed as Melsanthi in Sabarimala/Malikappuram temple under the Travancore Devaswom Board.

Case Title: Vishnunarayanan CV v. Travancore Devaswom Board & Ors.

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