news Sunday, June 08, 2014 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | 11.22 pm IST A section of religious leaders in Karnataka have thrown an open challenge to the practice of caste discrimination that is often seen in temples, adding momentum to the growing anti-caste discrimination protests in the state. Around 300 seers of various Mutts in Karnataka have organised protests against and public discussions of untouchability being practiced in the temples of Karnataka.  Addressing the media on Saturday, seer of Nagnur Rudrakshimutt Siddaramaswamy said that around 300 seers would fast from dawn to dusk on June 9 and that around 10,000 people including intellectuals, writers, politicians, and religious leaders would discuss the practice of untouchability, according to a report published by The New Indian Express (300 Seers to Fast Against Untouchability on June 9). The move comes in the backdrop of a lecturer (a non-Brahmin) in Manipal, Udupi district, being evicted from the “Brahmins-only” dining hall of the Krishna Mutt in April. Since news of the incident spread, numerous organisations had held protests against the eviction of the woman, Vanitha Shetty. This is not the first instance of caste discrimination being practised by the Mutt. Several times in the past, people have been evicted from the “Brahmins-only” dining hall, possibly, but no case has received as much attention or media coverage. Udupi’s Krishna Mutt and several other temples in the region have been practising caste discrimination in various forms. One of the main forms of such discrimination is in the form of pankti-bheda, a Kannada term that literally means line-discrimination in the serving of meals at a temple. Possibly for the first time in recent memory, there have been organised protests against pakti-bheda. The Krishna Mutt or Udupi Mutt or Udup Temple as it is popularly called, is the target for these protests for several reasons, according to activists. The Udupi Mutt is the religious and spiritual guide of several Mutts in the region and is also said to be the first Mutt established by Madhwacharya in south India. In this sense, the protests against the Udupi Mutt are symbolic. Protests against pankti-bheda took on an organised form around two years ago after leader of the Karnataka Rajya Hindulida Vargala Jagruta Vedike Shivaramu was assaulted at the Kukke Subrahmanya Temple in Dakshina Kannada district (Read a report on the assault here).  Shivaramu visited the temple in December 2011 to conduct a study of the practice of made made snana by some devotees during the Champa Shashti, which usually falls in November-December. The ritual is a harake, a fulfilment of a promise made to a god in response to the grant of a wish of the devotee.  This particular harake involves rolling over the leftovers of food consumed by a particular community of Brahmins, who are served meals inside the temple premises. The temple serves meals to devotees in a public dining hall.  After Shivaramu was assaulted, there were widespread protests against the assault and also against pankti-bheda by Dalit organizations and political parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Gradually, the protests widened to include pankti-bheda as a whole. Other factors, such as the visits to Dalit colonies by religious leaders such as the seer of the Pejavar Mutt Vishwesha Tirtha Swami, have also contributed to the opposition for caste discrimination. A high-point in the protests against pankti-bheda and caste discrimination was the lathi-charge and arrests of around 150 members of the CPI (M) when they attempted to enter the premises of the temple in December 2012. The cases are still in court. (Read a report here.) After Shetty was evicted from the temple premises, Dalit rights groups across the state and other organizations such as the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike and the CPI (M) staged separate protests. 

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