A formal decision at a ‘peace meeting’ to allot a separate date and place for Dalits to offer prayers in a temple has attracted criticism against officials on the grounds that they had indirectly endorsed caste discrimination in M. Karisalkulam village near Manamadurai in Sivaganga district.
After caste Hindus resisted the entry of Dalits into the Muthumariamman temple in M. Karisalkulam to conduct rituals and offer prayers on June 2, Revenue and Police officials convened a peace committee meeting involving representatives of caste Hindus and Dalits on July 4 and 25.
After several rounds of talks with both parties, the Revenue Divisional Officer, Sivaganga, arrived at a ‘resolution’: Caste Hindus or Backward Class people were permitted to celebrate the festival by taking out the traditional ‘mulaippari’ ritual on August 2, while Dalits would be given another date for the same.
A separate place would be earmarked for Dalits for the purpose, the resolution signed by the RDO and stakeholders said.
Rights activists are of the view that in drawing up this resolution, officials took sides with caste Hindus by agreeing to a separate date and place for Dalits to celebrate a temple festival.
A. Kathir of ‘Evidence’, a human rights organisation, who led a fact-finding team to the village said when Dalits were preparing to enter the temple and take out the ‘mulaippari’, a group of caste Hindus abused them on caste lines and warned them of dire consequences if they went ahead with the plan.
“The decision to have different venue/dates for Caste Hindus and Dalits to celebrate a temple festival amounts to endorsing untouchability. During the two peace committee meetings, the caste Hindus were firm that they would not allow Dalits to take out ‘mulaippari’ because it never happened in the past. This stand itself is a clear discrimination on caste lines which the officials should not have entertained,” he said.
Peoples Union for Civil Liberties general secretary V. Suresh said the solution to the problem in M. Karisalkulam was against constitutional spirit. “Firstly why Dalits should be asked to conduct festivities in another place…by doing so officials are only encouraging separate existence.”
Mr. Suresh said the role of officials seemed to be against the spirit of Article 17 of the Constitution and the dream of freedom fighters to bring about a casteless society. “By staggering the days of festivities to accommodate Dalits separately, the government agency is seen to be practising untouchability. If only officials remain firm and do not succumb to short-term political pressures, people will learn to live with each other over a period of time with a spirit of accommodation and respect for one another,” he said.