In a historic move, over 200 people from a community of Scheduled Castes in Tamil Nadu, who were denied entry into a temple for around eight decades, were today taken into the temple for worship by the police and district administration in the Tiruvannamalai district.
As police led the Dalits towards the temple, the community was excited. Women carried garlands for the deity, besides firewood and ingredients to prepare Pongal. Manimekalai, a young woman, told NDTV, "It's a dream come true. I've never seen the Goddess inside this temple. We were only allowed to stand outside and worship". Vijaya, an expectant mother, said, "I am happy as if my child is born". Gomathi, a college student, said, "Imagine I was born and brought up here but wasn't allowed in. This equality should continue every day".
The issue came to light during a parent - teachers association meet, following which the district administration held a series of peace meetings to pave the way for a smooth entry. District SP Dr K Karthikeyan told NDTV, "We held several rounds of talks to have a smooth entry. Our peace talks would continue, so this doesn't stop as a symbolic entry for the scheduled castes". Range DIG Dr MS Muthusamy added, "Still dominant communities oppose. We've deployed 400 security personnel. Law will take its course is there's any untoward incident".
The Tamil Nadu government administers anti untouchability pledge on January 30, Martyrs Day. District Collector, Dr P Murugesh, said, "We've established the constitutional rights of scheduled castes. It's a seventy-year-old temple. It's a different egalitarian era. We can't allow this. We will bring about a change of mindset."
Gubendran, a resident, also alleges untouchability in local salons and food joints. He says, "We can't get our hair cut in salons here. Eateries wouldn't allow us to dine, but give takeaways only ". The SP Dr Karthikeyan assured "we will follow it up and crack down if true".
Decades of caste discrimination and hatred towards scheduled castes came to light as a group of nearly a thousand people from dominant castes protested, surrounding the temple, the administration's move to let the oppressed classes in. Determined, the administration led by Superintendent of Police Karthikeyan cleared protesters by holding talks and erecting barricades.
Bharathi (name changed) a woman who was in the forefront, leading protesters, told NDTV, "Temple entry by Scheduled Castes will mark impurity". Ganapathy, also from a so-called upper caste, said, "Many years ago we gave them land and money to build their own temple, and they agreed they wouldn't enter our temple. Why this entry now?".
Just weeks ago, Kavitha Ramu, the Pudukottai District Collector had led a group of scheduled castes into a temple ending decades of denial of access. This violation came to light as police investigated mixing of human faeces in a tank that supplied drinking water to Dalits.