After nearly 80 years, members of the Scheduled Caste community of Thenmudiyanur in Tiruvannamalai district on Monday, 30 January, finally entered the Muthalamman temple in the village — a space to which they were denied access by the dominant communities.
The temple, which is under the administration of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department, was built by the dominant caste and they denied access to the Dalits on the grounds that allowing them inside would impact its the sacredness.
Hence a separate temple was built for the Scheduled Caste community in one corner of the village, which has 1,700 families, nearly 500 of them Dalits.
It is during the Thai month of the Tamil calendar that the Thenmudiyanur temple festival is celebrated.
And this year, the Dalits were determined to participate, leading to tensions and protests that saw the intervention of the police and district administration.
The run-up to Monday
According to a villager, N Sumathi, a Scheduled Caste community member, said the temple festival was being organised by a Temple Committee comprising 12 dominant castes.
“Each day, one community does the rituals in the temple until the function gets over, but Dalits are not allowed to do any rituals for the deity. Opposing this, elders from the Dalit community sought the right to perform the rituals during the festival, but the Temple Committee denied permission,” she told South First.
According to sources, when the elders of the dominant castes denied them permission, a section of youths from the Dalit community took the issue to the local police and revenue officials. They also petitioned the district collector. Following this, a peacekeeping meeting was held.
A Revenue Department official told South First that, during the meeting, people from the dominant communities, particularly those in the Temple Committee, did not agree to allow the Dalits into the temple.
They said that, as per tradition, only the 12 communities who run the temple are allowed to perform the rituals, and allowing Dalits would be against the normal practice.
Revenue Department officials, however, pointed out that the temple is under the control the of HR & CE Department, and warned that those who oppose the entry of Dalits into the temple would attract legal action.
It was made clear at this meeting the members of the Scheduled Caste community would be allowed into the temple on 30 January.
What happened on Monday?
On Monday, however, the caste Hindus gathered in front of the temple and blocked the entrance, preventing the Dalits from heading into the temple.
As the situation became tense, Revenue Department officials, along with the a police battalion headed by the Tiruvannamalai Superintendent of Police K Karthikeyan, reached the spot. District Collector B Murugesh, too, arrived at the village and held talks with the villagers.
During the talks, the villagers laid siege to the officials, blocked the gates of the temple, and raised slogans against the administration. An additional battalion of police headed by Deputy Inspector General MS Muthusamy was subsequently ordered to the village.
District Collector Murugesh, reportedly told the protestors that schools and temples are common for all and denying access to these was against the Constitution and would lead to criminal action. He also warned that if the villagers remained adamant about not allowing the Dalits, he would seal the temple.
As the situation grew more tense, the collector and the SP led members of the Scheduled Caste community into the temple amidst heavy police protection. The Dalits took garlands, milk pots, etc, inside the temple and worshipped the deity.
End to discrimination
K Elumalai, a 60-year-old who grew up in Thenmudiyanur, said that he had never had the opportunity to enter the temple.
“It is because of the officials’ interventions that this discrimination is broken now,” he told South First.
Even as the Dalits were entering the temple, caste Hindu women were seen abusing and hurling mud at the officials in disappointment.
Almost a 1,000 policemen were deployed in and around the village for security reasons.
DIG Muthusamy said that the village will be under the control of the police till normalcy returns. Another round of peace talks were called for by the district administration.