November 11th, 2011
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Dalits enter Utharapuram temple after 22 years

dalits enter Uthapuram temple

Madurai: After being ostracized for more than two decades, Dalits of Uthapuram village in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district finally entered the upper caste controlled Uthapuram temple under police protection. The “untouchability” wall which was built around the temple to keep those belonging to lower caste away was demolished in 2008.The wall was demolished with the help from the police and the Communist Party of India.

For generations, they were forbidden from entering the temple and performing prayers by the upper caste Pillai community. Though scores of upper caste Hindus received the 11 Dalit persons outside the temple with folded hands, the scene was marred by the loud wails of women from the nearby streets, who were opposed to the entry of Dalits to their temple.

The Dalits, led by their leaders K Ponnaiah and Sankaralingam, offered prayers at the Sri Muthalamman, Sri Mariamman temple around 4 p.m.They offered a garland, coconuts and fruits to the presiding deity. The priest performed ‘puja’ and ‘deeparathana,’ even as Madurai (Rural) Superintendent of Police Asra Garg, along with a huge posse of policemen, waited outside the temple.

“We are entering the temple premises for the first time after 1989,” said an emotional Mr Ponnaiah.

“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. I hope this will usher in a new chapter,” said Asra Garg, Superintendent of Police, Madurai.

“Earlier the Dalits used to offer prayers at the peepul tree on the temple premises during the festival of the Karuppasamy temple (belonging to the Dalits). The devotees, who perform the role of Lord Karuppasamy, Vairavan and Agni, used to go around the peepul tree as a ritual.”

“Our belief is that the ritual will keep the evils out of our village. But it was stopped after people threw stones at us during the festival in 1989,” he said. Since then, there were clashes between the two groups, followed by the construction of the wall.

“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.



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