After being denied entry for years, 60 Dalit devotees offered prayers for the first time

Dalits enter a temple in Tiruvannamalai the struggle for equal rights in TN continuesNishanth Krish
news Dalit rights Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 15:17

Watched on by a posse of policemen, men, women, and children crowded at the Arulmigu Thulukanathamman temple in Tiruvannamalai on Tuesday offering prayers for the very first time. The 60 Dalit devotees belonging to the Nammandi Colony entered the temple, accompanied by revenue officials, after being denied entry for several years by Vanniyars living in Hariharapakkam, where the temple is situated, reported The Times of India.

For many Dalits, as the Times of India reports, it was akin to the celebration of Pongal, the harvest festival. Witnessing the divine that had been denied to them for years, the paradigm shift in the village was credited to the youngsters who campaigned for their rights.

Three months ago, the Dalits appealed to the district administration to allow them entry into the temple. Following a series of peace talks between the Vanniyars and Dalits, the administration closed the temple a month later, with the Vanniyars locking the temple, refusing to relent.  

A few days ago, the sub-collector T Prabhu Shankar decided to break the temple lock and allow the Dalits into the temple. To keep at bay any obstruction from the Vanniyars, a bond was made days before the move to prevent any untoward incident. 

A police team will stay put in the village for nearly a week to ensure that law and order is maintained, the sub-collector added.

Tuesday’s historic moment, however, comes on the back of years of struggle by Dalit communities in different parts of Tamil Nadu to be allowed equal entry into temples.

The Nagapattinam order: 

In July this year, 250 members of the Dalit community in Pazhangkallimedund Nagapalli villages in Nagapattinam district demanded they be allowed to conduct rituals for a full day inside the Mahasakhthi Amman temple during Aadi month, but this request was denied by Caste Hindus. They threatened to convert to Islam on account of the demands not being met. 

Following the dispute, the Madras High Court on August 9, passed an order to allow Dalits to perform the temple festival in the month of Aadi. "The petitioners will be alive to the said situation and work out some compromise so that at least in the next year during the Tamil month Aadi, the temple festival is performed without any problem or hitch,” the order said. 

The judge noted that under the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorisation Act, 1947 "read with the rules framed there under, the HR&CE and the executive officer of Sri Badrakaliamman temple in Kallimedu village in Nagapattinam district are under statutory as well as moral obligation to permit the people belonging to SC community to have a right of worship and perform rituals in connection with the Aadi festival."

Madurai equal rights dispute:

On July 24th, Dalits of ‘Maravetti’ Karisalkulam in Madurai alleged that they faced 13 forms of discrimination and asked the police to intervene to make sure they could celebrate the festival on par with the Caste Hindus. 

According to The Hindu, six sects of caste Hindus maintained that they would follow the existing traditional system, the Dalits presented petitions to the district adminidtration seeking their intervention.

They said they were denied permission to participate in the ‘mulaipaari eduththal’ (taking sprouts or germination of nine grains in pots). They were prevented from preparation or serving food during ‘annadhanam’. They were prevented from performing ‘oyilattam’ and ‘kummi’ (folk dances) at the festival. Dalits could offer worship but could not light camphor in a plate or directly garland the trishul. 

Ariyalur temple dispute: 

On July 31st, the Ariyalur police sealed the Ayyanar temple over a dispute between Vanniyars and Dalits on entry into the temple.

According to The Hindu, over two generations worshipped the Ayyanar, Veeranar and Muniyanar – the three deities -  Members of the Scheduled Caste have been worshipping Veeranar, while Vanniyars worshipped all the three deities.

As history has it, 4 years ago, Vanniyars objected to the Dalits choosing to perform a sacrificial ritual on their own and moving the idol of Veeranar out of the temple. This led to the sparring between the two. 

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