After being ostracised for more than two decades, Dalits in Tamil Nadu's Madurai district finally entered the Uthapuram temple. For generations, they were forbidden from entering the temple and performing prayers by the upper caste Pillai community.
A wall was built around the temple to keep the Dalits away.
A few years ago, the wall was demolished by the police. And thanks to the peace efforts by the police, both sides have now made a new beginning.
"As you know Uthapuram has seen a lot of problems on the caste lines for many years. An attempt was made by both communities so that there is no problem in the future and they live peacefully. Accordingly, an agreement was signed by both community leaders. And today both community leaders have gone into the temple together after a number of years," said Asra Garg, Superintendent of Police, Madurai.
"And we all hope this will usher in a new chapter," he added.
Earlier, the Dalits had to conduct their prayers from quite a distance with a wall being constructed to prevent them coming inside the temple. But the Dalits are now being allowed to freely offer prayers in the temple, with the dominant community welcoming them.
"We must remember that the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front have made massive efforts and sacrifices to get this done. Ironically, the Uthapuram temple had been closed for Dalits since the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act came into force. The act is almost 21 years old and the Uthapuram Dalits have been prevented (to enter the temple) for 22 years," said Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, People's watch.
"The district administration has proved that such barriers will be broken
if it along with the police work. We need to appreciate both of them
(district administration and police), and the local community," Mr Tiphagne added.
Rural Tamil Nadu is still notorious for various forms of discrimination - in some villages, Dalits can't wear footwear in front of upper caste Hindus. This new beginning gives hope that things could change.