There are tensions between Ezhavas and Nairs over control over administration

Caste confrontations are part of the Puttingal temples legacy and legal fights - then as now PTI
news Kollam Fire Monday, April 11, 2016 - 14:05

Legend has it that years ago a woman belonging to a backward caste accidentally slashed an ant hill with her sickle in Paravur village of Kollam district. Panicking as blood started oozing from the anthill, she ran to the Ezhava leader nearby. He declared that the anthill had been the abode of Bhadrakali, and went on to install an idol there.  Years later a temple was constructed at the spot.

The Ezhava leader’s family became the pujaris of the temple and every year they would conduct pujas for the Devi during the ‘Meena Bharani’ festival. Though an Ezhava (an OBC caste) was in charge of the puja, the Nairs (forward caste) were the powerful and the rich in the locality.

Over the years, the balance tipped in favour of the Nairs with them allegedly usurping all positions in the temple committee. In 1956, a group of Ezhavas approached a district court demanding more representation. The orders from the district court and High Court, favoured the Nairs.  Fourteen years ago, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines for the formation of the committee - four Nairs, one from each of the four localities around the temple, three from the temple priest’s family and four more Hindus, belonging to any other community other than Nair.

A few years ago, when Arun Lal, an Ezhava, was the committee’s secretary, a few Nairs approached the local administration seeking a stay on the fireworks display. “They accused us of flouting rules and got a day’s stay order. The current committee’s board members were mostly Nairs and they tried to outdo the grandeur, resulting in the tragedy,” he said.

Though many people living in the area had voiced their protest against loud and dangerous firecrackers, it was only the 80-year-old Pankajakshi amma who was willing to file an official complaint. It was on the basis of her complaint that the Additional District Magistrate had ordered that the fireworks display could not go on. Here too, there is a clear caste undertone, with many calling her an ‘Ezhava who went against the Nair-controlled temple’.

“These people (mostly Ezhavas live around the temple) have all taken over bits of land belonging to the temple, that’s why they had a problem with the kambam (fireworks),” said Aravindakshan, a driver.

Though Pankajakshi Amma has been hailed as the brave woman to take on the powerful temple committee, in her own village she is looked at with skepticism by many. “They don’t want this temple to prosper. That’s why they went to Collector,” said Baiju, a financier.

There are also people like 62-year-old Devarajan who believe that Pankajakshi Amma’s caste or community has nothing to do with her fight. “She lives right next door. She built a house after winning a long court battle. When someone’s house gets damaged due to someone else’s love for dangerous fireworks, how does her community matter?” he asked.

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