Provisions restricting Melshanthi posts only for Malayala Brahmins amounts to untouchability: Advocate Professor (Dr) Mohan Gopal

Provisions restricting Melshanthi posts only for Malayala Brahmins amounts to untouchability: Advocate Professor (Dr) Mohan Gopal

On December 3, the Kerala High Court's division bench heard a batch of petitions challenging the Travancore Dewaswom Board notification inviting applications only from Malayala Bhramins for appointment as Melshanthi (chief priest) of Sabarimala-Malikappuram temples, on the grounds that it violates fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15 (1) and 16(2) of the Indian Constitution. The bench comprises of Justice Anil K. Narendran and Justice Ajith Kumar.

In one petition, advocate B.G. Haridranath argued that regardless of caste, a qualified Hindu and idle worshipper who is well-versed in mantras for performing daily poojas should be appointed as Melshanthi. The Counsel relied on a number of Supreme Court decisions to back up his arguments, including the case of Seshammal v. State of Tamil Nadu. Advocate Professor (Dr) Mohan Gopal represented the petitioners in one of the Writ Petitions heard. The petitioners contend that, with the exception of the Board's requirement that the applicant is a Malayala Brahmin from Kerala, they are qualified to be appointed as Priests under the Devaswom Board's notification.

"There is a clash between Constitutional values and the provision which restricts Melshanthi posts only to Malayala Brahmins. The core Constitutional value at stake is untouchability. Article 17 not only prohibits but also criminalizes untouchability. It is a Constitutional crime. Underneath the crime of untouchability is the belief that by birth some human beings are pure and some are less pure", he submitted.

Referring to Article 25(2) of the Constitution, which allows the State to make laws for the opening of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes of Hindus, the Counsel argued that this "opening" is more than just a chance to stand outside and pray; it is also a chance to be a Melshanthi. He also stated that the TDB had argued before the High Court in the Adithyan case that there was no tradition of appointing only Malayala Brahmins as temple shanthis.

The Counsel for Travancore Devaswom Board, on the other hand, stated that it is up to the petitioners to demonstrate that this is not a practise in the Sabarimala temple. The petitioners' request for a declaration cannot be granted in a writ petition because the matter must be litigated in a civil suit by presenting evidence regarding customary practise. He went on to say that the N.Adithyan case was about regular appointments of shanthis in a specific temple and did not apply to Sabarimala.


Case Title: Vishnunarayanan v. The Secretary and Connected Cases


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