For these Dalits, the refusal to recognise their right to worship devalues their contribution towards the temple.

We built temple but cant celebrate in it TN Dalits threatening conversion over temple rowImage for representation/ Nishanth Kris
news Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 18:25

Frustrated by their exclusion from a festival of the deity Bhadra Kaliamman in the Mahasakhthi Amman temple, 250 Dalit families living in the Pazhangkallimedu and Nagapalli villages in Nagapattinam district recently threatened to convert to Islam. Although, caste Hindu authorities have subsequently agreed to allow them a day to celebrate their deity, the Dalit families still seem apprehensive about how far the agreement will hold.

The main demand of the Dalits is to perform Mandagapadi, that is, to lead the rituals on one day in the five-day annual temple festival. “Bhadra Kaliamman is our deity, whom we have been worshipping from generations. But now, we are not left with any other way than to convert to Islam,” said Senthil Kumar, district Union Secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).

For these Dalits, the refusal to recognise their right to worship devalues their contribution towards the temple. “We built the temple in 2009 and it is government-aided. Then why should we not be allowed to celebrate the temple festival for one day?” asked Vetrivel, President of the temple trust in the village.

He said that a meeting will be held next week with representatives of caste-Hindu families and Dalit families, and the Tehsildar and District Revenue Officer to take a final decision on this matter.

Earlier, in 2015, the Dalit families approached the Nagapattinam court because the procession of the deity would not enter their streets. The court ordered the procession of the deity to pass through Dalit areas, but the caste Hindus do not still follow the court orders, said Senthil.

While Dalit families are allowed to enter the temple, they are not allowed to celebrate the temple festival, added Senthil. “For the last three years, we have been trying to take help from the local administration to help us in celebrating the festival. But they always support the caste Hindus and it has not been of any help,” said Senthil.

Why convert to Islam? “The youth of our village suggested we will convert to Islam. It is the only religion which does not have any caste divisions. And this year, if we are not allowed to celebrate the festival, we are surely converting to Islam,” said Senthil Kumar.

He also said that the Dalits are planning to appeal to the court as well. “The leaders of the Tamil Nadu Towheed Jamaat (TNTJ) also met our families but they asked us not to rush into a decision out of anger and to thoughtfully take a decision,” said Senthil Kumar.

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