Braving stiff opposition from higher caste protesters, mostly women, Dalits on Monday entered the Sri Muthalamman temple in Thenmudiyanur village of Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvannamalai district – the first time since it was built 70 years ago.
The Dalit community members, including children and women, entered with floral garlands and fruits in the temple, administered by the state government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department.
The village has 1,700 families of which 500 are Dalits and the remaining are from various castes. According to the customs and traditions, after the Pongal festival, rituals are conducted by 12 communities and each is given a day’s slot to perform the rituals. However, Dalits were left out and prohibited from entering the temple.
The Dalits appealed to the district administration, including the District Collector and Superintendent of Police, who called a peace meeting in the village, where it was decided that no one has the right to prevent anyone from entering the temple. The district administration allowed the Dalits entry to the temple on January 30, or Martyr’s day, the day when the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
The caste Hindus, however, were stiff in their opposition to the Dalits entering the temple and a large number of people, especially women, gathered in front of the temple since 5 a.m. to protest.
However, amid a heavy police contingent of more than 300 policemen, present at the spot to prevent any untoward incident, Dalits entered the temple for the first time ever.
Tiruvannamalai District Collector, B. Murugest, and Superintendent of Police, K. Karthikeyan were present on the occasion and informed the protestors that such discriminatory practices as preventing entry of Dalits to the temple were against the law and that it was a state government controlled-temple. The policemen and the district administration managed to pacify the agitators.
The Dalit community has demanded to perform pooja in the temple on Tuesday and Friday and talks are being carried out between the Dalits and the upper castes on this.