For the first time in about 70 years, Dalits offered prayers in their village temple near here on Monday following ‘peace’ talks facilitated by the district authorities with dominant castes.
Amid tight police security, in the presence of top district and police officials, villagers belonging to the Scheduled Castes entered the temple premises with garlands, flowers and others offerings to the presiding deity. Amid palpable excitement, they hailed the deity with chants and offered prayers.
The village is Thenmudiyanur under Thandrampattu taluk in northern Tiruvannamalai district and the place of worship is Muthumariyamman temple, a goddess Shakti shrine.
While authorities did not specifically mention that it is for the first time that Dalits are visiting the village temple, people belonging to the Scheduled Castes said that they are entering the shrine for the first time.
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Local people are of the view that the temple is 80 years old. The government said it is 70 years old.
C Murugan, a Dalit resident told reporters: ”For about 80 years, Dalits could not enter the village temple. The district authorities including police officials together have got us a new liberation to offer worship. We thank the authorities and the government. We are overwhelmed by boundless joy. I am 41 years old and I am standing on the temple footsteps for the first time. Such was the caste barrier in the village and the authorities have reformed the people”.
A girl, also a Dalit said she was thrown out of the temple years ago and only now she could enter the shrine. District Collector B Murugesh said the temple is 70 years old and belongs to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department.
Coinciding with the annual harvest festival of ‘Pongal,’ each community gets a day to offer ‘Pongal’ (A sweet dish made with rice and jaggery) in the temple premises and they make worship. It goes on for about 15 days.
This year, the Adi Dravidar (SCs) people had sought permission to offer pongal. However, other sections of people opposed it, he told reporters. ”All are equal under the Indian Constitution. There must not be discrimination in any respect.”
This was conveyed to those who opposed Dalit entry and peace talks were initiated by district authorities which includes police and revenue officials. Eventually, the issue was amicably settled and Dalits offered worship, he said.
Ahead of the temple entry, a team of officials, led by Deputy Inspector General of Police (Vellore range), M S Muthusamy and Police Superintendent (Tiruvannamalai district) K Karthikeyan held peace talks with villagers. They underscored that under the law all are equal and there must not be any kind of discrimination.