TN temple sealed amid opposition to entry of Dalits, cops deployed in huge numbers

The Villupuram district administration held several rounds of ‘peace talks’ to address the Vanniyars’ opposition to Dalits entering the Draupadi Amman temple, but the discussions did not yield any results.
Melpathi Draupadi Amman Temple shut down
Melpathi Draupadi Amman Temple shut down
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In the early hours on Wednesday, June 7, Villupuram district Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) Ravichandran sealed the Dharmaraja Draupadi Amman temple in Melpathi village, after several rounds of ‘peace talks’ between the Dalit community in Koliyanur village and the Vanniyar community about allowing Dalits’ entry into the temple failed to yield any results. 

According to media reports, nearly 2000 police personnel from five districts have been deployed to Melpathi under the supervision of North Zone Inspector General (IG) of Police Kannan, and security has been tightened in neighbouring villages as well. The district administration held seven rounds of talks to defuse the tension between the two communities, as the Vanniyars in the region refused to allow Dalits to enter the temple. Villupuram district Collector C Palani chaired two of these discussions, while the other five were chaired by RDO Ravichandran. However, the talks did not yield any consensus. 

The Vanniyar community in the region has vehemently opposed the Villupuram district administration’s initiatives to allow Dalits’ entry into the temple. The Vanniyars have claimed that the Dharmaraja Draupadi Amman temple is their ‘clan temple’, and that the deity has been worshipped exclusively by their community members for generations. They also claimed that the temple was not under the control of Hindu Religion and Charitable Endowment Department and refused to allow government intervention in its administration. However, HR&CE refuted their claims and said the temple has been under the department’s control for 45 years. 

Last month, the Vanniyars had staged a dharna in front of the temple after Tamil Nadu Higher Education Minister K Ponmudy directed the district administration on May 17 to take initiatives to facilitate the entry of Dalits into the temple. The Vanniyar residents in the Melpathi village flung their voter IDs, Aadhaar cards, and ration cards in the air to register their resentment. 

The Dalits’ demands to enter the temple grew louder after some residents of the Paraiyar Scheduled Caste community who visited the temple to offer prayers were beaten up by a group of Vanniyar men on April 7. The Vanniyar men restricted them from entering the temple, and allegedly abused them using casteist slurs and even physically assaulted them. The police have booked a case against 18 Vanniyar men based on a complaint lodged by the victims, but no arrests have been made so far. 

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