— TS Venkatesan
Nearly a century after a large number of Dalits have dharsan of Mariamman temple in Chellankuppam village in Thiruvannamalai district in Tamil Nadu is yet another incidence of how the oppressed castes are still being denied temple entry and an evidence of social caste discrimination.
In Tamil Nadu prior to bharat attained freedom from the colonial ruler who successfully divided the masses on the basis of false narratives and part of remnants of civilisation process, Dalits were treated as untouchables, denied entry into temples, disallowed to wear upper vastra including women ( barred from wearing blouses) not allowed to wear slippers while entering upper caste Hindu residential areas. They could not sit with them to partake meals in equal pedestal and even today prevalence of twin tumber or glass practice in tea and hotels in southern part of Tamil Nadu. Temple entry in some temples stills a dream for them.
Freedom fighter and eminent lawyer A Vaidyanatha Iyer , on the advise Rajaji, led four Dalits into Meenakshi Amman temple at Madurai on July 7, 1939, paving the way for an Act in the Madras Presidency assembly ending the centuries-old practice of barring people from lower castes from entering temples. Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar and others. When the country is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav , many temples continue to be out of bounds for Dalits. Dalit leaders say ““There may be no restrictions in big temples maintained by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment of the state government. But, entry for Dalits is not a cakewalk in several temples controlled by dominant castes in some villages”. Periyar has no role in Madurai Meenakshi temple entry and intact he sided with dominant caste but the Dravidian parties still claim he was instrumental in social reform and dalit upliftment. But in DMK rule, Dalit panchayat women and men presidents were denied hoisting flags as part of Independence and Republic Day celebrations. They are still not allowed sit equally among them and often offered plastic chairs and forced to sit on the floors, if we go by the past incidents as reported in media.
In last June, a team of officials led by Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) S Ravichandran sealed the Dharma raja Droupathi Amman temple in Melpaathi village of Villupuram district under Section 145 (1) of the CrPC to avoid potential law and order issues.. it is under the administration of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department. Adi Dravidars, who are Dalits said that they were not being allowed entry into the temple by people belonging to other castes. Few people belonging to the other dominant castes reportedly tried to immolate themselves in order to oppose the entry of the Adi Dravidars.
In January this year Dalits of Then Mudiyanur village in Tiruvannamalai entered the200-year-old temple village temple dedicated to Goddess Muthalamman( under HR and CE control)for the first time in 70 years after the temple was built. The 60 Dalit devotees belonging to the Nammandi Colony entered the Thulukanathamman temple in Tiruvannamalai , accompanied by revenue officials, after being denied entry for several years by Vanniyars living in Hariharapakkam in 2016. These are only examples from the vast list.
In his background, Dalits in Chellankuppam village in Kilpennathur block of Tiruvannamalai district entered the Amman temple in the village on 2nd August (Wednesday) for the first time in the 40 years since it was built. Amid police protection, the SC community members, including women and children from the village, carrying garlands and fruits entered the temple, which is under the administration of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department. Other community people, according to police, said had not opposed their entry into the temple and no protests sofar.
In July, there was an incident resulting between a fist cuff between dalits and Vanniyars when a dalit youth tried to enter the temple. The dalits after raking up the temple entry issue in social media presented a petition to the revenue authorities urging them to ensure their entry in to the temple. Following this, a series of peace meetings with both sides of the village were held, and it was explained to all that no one had the right to prevent anyone from worshipping at the temple. Dalits were then given the slot on August 2 to conduct their rituals at the temple. The women folks cooked sweet pongal in earthen pots in the temple premises to be offered to the Goddess.
The temple follows a tradition. The temple will be opened only on Tuesdays and Fridays when members of the caste Hindus worship. On other days, only tourists from other States and countries were allowed to visit the temple after prior permission from the local panchayat officials. Dalits will be allowed only the days allotted to them. Caste Hindus said the temple was built with their funds and no dalit had contributed. Officials said that such discriminatory practices were against the law as the temple falls under the HR&CE Department.
Locals believe that newlywed couples offering prayers and cooking Pongal in the temple will be granted all they wish for. But Dalits had no such privilege. The elated dalits said today that the district officials helped them to enter the temple, offer prayers, cook pongal and fulfil their vows”.