Twenty priests at the famed Chidambaram Nataraja temple have been booked under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, but no arrests have been made so far.

Chidambaram Temple casteist abuse from priests
news Caste Friday, February 18, 2022 - 17:20

Twenty priests at the famous Chidambaram Nataraja temple in Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore district have been booked under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (PoA) after they used casteist slurs and harassed a 37-year-old Dalit woman devotee who wanted to enter the Kanaga Sabai inside the temple complex. Multiple videos of the incident, which occurred on February 13, circulating on social media show a group of priests shouting at and chasing away the woman.

The Chidambaram Town police confirmed that a case has been registered, but said no arrests have been made so far. The FIR has also been registered under sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 341 (wrongful restraint) and 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the IPC and the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act apart from PoA.

Speaking to TNM, the woman, Lakshmi Jayasheela, said that she is an ardent devotee and has been visiting the temple for the last 20 years. “Earlier it was possible to enter the Kanaga Sabai to see the deity. In the last two years, the priests disallowed entry due to the pandemic,” she says. Jayasheela adds that for four months now she has been asking for them to start letting devotees enter the Kanaga Sabai, but the priests have been continuing to cite COVID-19 as an excuse.

“I’m not the only one who has been asking for this. Many devotees who come to the temple also make this request but they are turned away,” she further alleges, adding, “I understand when government imposed COVID regulations were in place, but those have been withdrawn now. There is a reason people want to access the Kanaga Sabai. We believe that when you look upon Siva from there and pray, our prayers will be answered. It is a different feeling.”

On February 13, Jayasheela says that she once again requested entry into the Kanaga Sabai and argued with the priests, after which the angered priests used casteist slurs to abuse her and attempted to force her away. “They claimed that I’d tried to steal silver from the temple, but when the police came they claimed I’m like a sister to them. I have not stolen anything, I was simply asking for my rights,” Jayasheela says.

The Chidambaram police also confirmed that no formal complaint against her has been registered.

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