In a viral video, Ashwini said that she and other Narikurava people had been denied free meals at a Mamallapuram temple.

Sekar Babu eating as a woman sitting next to him speaks to himImage courtesy: Twitter/Vijayakumar IPS
news Politics Saturday, October 30, 2021 - 09:07

A few days ago, the video of Ashwini, a Narikurava woman at Mamallapuram, had gone viral. An upset and agitated Ashwini was seen asking why she and others from her community were refused the 'Annadhanam' served at a temple in Mamallapuram.

In a strong statement against discrimination under the government scheme, Tamil Nadu HR & CE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments) minister ate lunch with Ashwini on Friday, October 29, in the same Sthalasayana Perumal temple that had earlier refused to serve her food. Ashwini ate the ‘Annadhanam’ or the ritual temple free meal with a child on her lap. She was flanked by the minister and the HR & CE Commissioner on either side. Other members of the Narikurava community (which Ashwini belongs to) who were also denied food, ate with the two. Apart from this, the Thiruporur MLA SS Balaji also ate lunch with the group.

Ashwini hails from Pooncheri village and belongs to a community of nomads whose members now sell beads and jewellery to make a living. She was born and raised in Mamallapuram where the temple is located. 

“It was noon and we were waiting in line for food. The first round of leaves was laid but we did not get a spot. Then when the second round was laid, we sat down. But, a man from the temple came and asked us to leave. He said that if there is any leftover food he will give it to us outside the temple. He told us to stand outside,” she says in the video.

Others who accompanied her too were asked to leave the temple dining hall.

“I asked him if this was his wedding to give us leftover food. This was a temple scheme to feed the poor set up by the state government. These people refuse to give us a place because we are not educated. One day my son will grow up. We will educate them and then we will see how long they can go on without changing,” she says.

The video caught the attention of the Chief Minister, whose office directed the issue to the HR & CE Minister, according to reports. The Kancheepuram HR & CE Joint commissioner P Jayaraman was then asked to trace her.

The Annadhanam scheme which offers free temple meals to the poor was launched by the DMK government’s HR & CE department and is currently active in 754 across Tamil Nadu.

Speaking to the Hindu, Sekar Babu said that when he visited the temple, he had wanted to meet Ashwini. He added that she was not able to believe what had happened and that she also wished to meet and thank Chief Minister MK Stalin. The HR & CE minister promised to personally thank CM Stalin on her behalf. The department also distributed saris and dhotis to everyone who partook in the Annadhanam.

The Narikuravas are an indigenous community from Tamil Nadu who used to be hunters. However, after they were prohibited from hunting, the community now moves from place selling jewellery and beads for a living. Following the lunch, the minister promised to look into the issues of the Narikurava community in the state.

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