A Dalit organisation in Bengaluru on Friday, January 12, filed a complaint against Udupi Pejawar math seer Vishwaprasanna Tirtha and Suvarna Kannada news anchor Ajith Hanumakkanavar accusing them of discriminatory remarks and promoting caste-based exclusion in religious spaces. The complaint centres around a TV programme Udupi Pejavar Swamiji – News Hour Special – Are Dalits allowed to do pooja in Ayodhya? aired on December 27, 2023. The programme held a discussion on whether Dalits were allowed to perform pooja (prayer) inside Ram temple in Ayodhya.
This comes amidst the consecration ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on January 22. The Pejawar seer is also the trustee of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra (management of Ram temple in Ayodhya).
During the show, Nagaraj, the spokesperson from a Dalit organisation, raised concerns about the alleged exclusion of Dalits from performing poojas in the Ayodhya Ram temple. The seer responded, "In a temple, only one person performs pooja, not everyone can do it. Except in Kashi temple. The person appointed for that only performs poojas. Not just in the temple, for example, any office or organisation – not everyone can sit on that post. Only the ones appointed to the post are allowed."
The seer’s remarks led to a debate on caste-based exclusion in religious spaces, where Nagaraj suggested a rotational system for performing pooja in Ayodhya. The seer defended the traditional casteist approach. "The community that has been performing pooja so far will continue to do so in the future. Others can’t do it." When questioned about the possibility of changing the traditions, the seer said, "Why does the question arise only when it comes to temples and dharmic places?"
The TV anchor argued against applying secular rules to religious places, saying, "You can't put rules of secular places in religious places. Don't mix both. If you want to visit Sabarimala shrine, there are a set of rules that need to be followed. How do you say they want to go to Sabarimala without following the set rules? In some houses, you can wear shoes inside the house, in other houses, there are rules to keep shoes outside the house. If you say that you wear shoes inside the kitchen in your house and will follow the same in others' houses as well then you won’t be a logical person.”
Meanwhile, a Congress panellist suggested a conditional approach for Dalits, saying, "If Dalits want to perform pooja, then let them learn mantras and attain 'Akhanda Paanditya' and then perform poojas."
The seer then questioned the need to separate Dalits as a distinct group within Hinduism. Nagaraj responded that Dalits don’t have any opportunities anywhere. The seer then asked him “Will you allow a Brahmin to be the leader of a Dalit organisation?”
To which, Nagaraj asked, “How is that possible?”
The clip ended with the seer questioning the relevance of the topic, "Why are you taking up this topic? During bhoomi pooja as well, Kameshwarji (Dalit kar sevak Kameshwar Chaupal) was present - so why are you picking a fight on this topic?”
The complaint filed by BR Ambedkar Dandu said that the seer’s response to Nagaraj’s questions was dismissive and discriminatory. The complaint read, “By saying that religious rules should be observed in religious places and that Dalits are not allowed to perform poojas in temples, both – seer and TV anchor are advocating untouchability.”
The complaint stressed that such statements violated the principles of equality and secularism enshrined in the constitution and also contributed to the perpetuation of untouchability. “By using the word 'tradition', the Dalits have been oppressed and threatened in the past to obey and follow this bad tradition without question. The seer and the TV anchor have advocated the tradition of denying entry to the temple to the Dalits, which is an inhumane, oppressive and inferior tradition,” the complaint read.
Adarsh R Iyer, Advisor, Dr BR Ambedkar Dandu, said, “Such statements by prominent personalities are very insulting to Dalits and it encourages others to follow the suit.” He added that only an acknowledgement of the complaint has been given by the Bengaluru’s High Grounds police station and that no FIR has been registered so far.