On Thursday, the Supreme Court kept the final decision on the review and writ petitions on Sabarimala in abeyance till a seven-judge bench delivers verdict on the role of courts in religion.
The Hindu's front page said 'Sabarimala case: Larger Bench to decide role of courts in religion'.
The accompanying report said that “a majority judgment delivered by a five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi kept a final decision on the Sabarimala review and writ petitions in abeyance till a larger Bench of seven judges delivers an “authoritative pronouncement” on the exact role a non-epistolary court can play in deciding whether a particular practice is essential or integral to a religion."
In a related report titled, "Court wanted its role defined in ‘essentially religious’ cases," the newspaper reported that “the seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court will examine the court’s powers and limits in dealing with cases that are “essentially religious, essential to religion and integral part of a religion.”
The newspaper's editorial criticised the court's decision to reconsider all issues of religious freedom besides referring abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation to a larger bench. "It is shocking that the Bench includes the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation in this genre. It is well-established that freedom of religion, under Article 25, is subject to public order, morality and health, and it may not be difficult for any court to test the validity of the practice against the restriction on grounds of a woman’s health, and this may not require an exalted panel of seven judges," it said.
It also criticised the court for keeping the petitions on Sabarimala further. "In keeping the petitions on Sabarimala pending further, the court has displayed a disquieting inability to stand by its previous transformative judgment. Further, it may lead to a repeat of the unsavoury incidents of last year when religious groups and political activists blocked and attacked women devotees."
The Times of India ran with the headline, 'Bigger bench for Sabari, open to women for now'.
It reported that “the Supreme Court did not alter its ruling allowing women of all ages to enter the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala but asked a seven-judge bench to evolve guidelines to decide cases involving a clash between the right to equality and the right of denominations to follow their customs—a tussle that has been brought to the fore by the campaign to let women into temples, mosques and Parsi agiyaris (fire temples).”
The report added: “CJI Gogoi, in a nine-page judgment also written on behalf of Justices Khanwilkar and Malhotra, said reference to a seven-judge bench was needed as the possibility of a collision between fundamental rights — between the right to equality on the one hand and the right of individuals to practise their faith and of denominations to follow their affairs on the other — went beyond the Sabarimala temple entry case."
Hindustan Times used the headline 'SC throws Sabarimala test open to more faiths'. The daily reported that Supreme Court referred Sabarimala review pleas to a larger seven-judge bench. "The larger bench will re-examine the Sabarimala issue as well as those related to the entry of women into mosques, and the denial of access to fire temples for Parsi women who marry outside the community. It will also rule on the practice of female genital mutilation among Dawoodi Bohras, ruled the Court in a verdict delivered days before the shrine reopens for a three-month pilgrimage and Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi retires."
The newspaper's editorial titled 'Seeking equality across faiths', welcomed the decision to review the issue of gender equality in other faiths. "The SC's Sabarimala decision opens the door for reforms," the editorial said.
" Irrespective of the final decision, the case will trigger a much-needed debate on the principle of gender equality in a secular, constitutional democracy such as India. It will also force the court, and society, to address the fact that while faith is important, in cases of discriminatory practices, it is subject to rule of law. By potentially opening the door for a scenario in which women can enter all temples, mosques, fire temples, and are not subject to inhuman practices, the five-judge SC bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, has done well. Its decision will have political, social, cultural and religious implications," it said.
The Indian Express's front page said 'Let big bench decide larger issue, essential religious practices: SC'.
The newspaper reported that petitions seeking review of the Sabarimala verdict will be kept pending till a larger bench of seven judges. “Concluding that its September 28, 2018 judgment lifting age restrictions on the entry of women into the Sabarimala hill shrine may impinge on the affairs of other religions too and will require a more detailed examination, the Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision Thursday, decided that petitions seeking review of the verdict will be kept pending till a larger bench of seven judges takes a call on the matter," said the report.
'Individual rights vs religious freedom goes for SC review', was the front page headline of Deccan Chronicle.
The newspaper reported that women's entry into Sabarimala may be taken up by larger bench of SC. "Having referred the entire matter to a larger judge bench, the majority ruling did not say anything critical about the September 28, 2018 order," the paper noted.
Quoting lawyers in another story titled 'Writ petitions on women entry to Sabari pending', the newspaper said “it will be incorrect to say that Chief Justice Gogoi has referred the Sabarimala review petitions to the larger bench.”
'Faith gets hope', read The New Indian Express headline. The newspaper said that a seven-judge bench will decide the fate of Sabarimala order and the review bench did not pass any order on the court's 2018 judgement.
The newspaper's editorial put the onus on Kerala government to ensure peace. "Better sense must prevail and various stake holders, including the government, must patiently await the final outcome without doing anything to disrupt peace in society in general and sanctity of the shrine in particular."