It’s curtains down on Dalit entry ban in this temple

A group of Dalits, led by Pattikajathi Kshema Samiti, entered Jatadhari Devasthanam recently

Three years ago, Krishna Mohana, a Dalit resident of a small village in Kasaragod, did something that was considered unthinkable for a person of his caste.

During the annual festival of Jatadhari Devasthanam, a temple at Swarga in Enmakaje panchayat, Mohana climbed the 18 holy steps and entered the temple complex, a centuries-old right reserved for upper castes. A commotion followed, the police intervened and reached a compromise – it was decided that Dalits would be allowed into the temple. In a strange twist that followed, the temple administrators claimed to have lost the keys to the temple, effectively shutting it down for everyone.

A few days ago, a group of Dalits, led by Pattikajathi Kshema Samiti (PKS), entered the temple and climbed the very 18 steps that Mohana dared to traverse.

In doing so, they effectively declared an end to the age-old custom that had been prevailing in the village, despite the Temple Entry Proclamation, which came into effect in the region in 1947, that abolished the ban on some castes entering temples.

More discriminations

"It’s not just the ban on entry through the holy 18 steps, Dalits are not even allowed to watch the Theyyam performance up close. They need to stand at a distance. Even to offer dakshina to the deity, the Dalits need to hand it over to a higher caste person, who in turn will deposit it before the deity," said B.M. Pradeep, district secretary, PKS.

Pradeep said the worst part is the food, considered as prasadam of the deity — an incarnation of Lord Shiva, being served separately. "The temple authorities call out the names of the lower castes to distribute the prasadam and Dalits are not allowed to consume the food near the temple," he said.

Scheduled Castes such Nalkadaya (Kopala), the caste which performs the ritual of Jatadhari Theyyam, Mugera and Baira; Scheduled Tribes such as Koraga and Mayila; and Other Backward Classes such as Tulu-speaking Billava (equivalent to the Malayalam-speaking Thiyyas) are prohibited from using the steps.

Though the temple is owned by four Brahmin families, it is established as a trust and funds are collected from the public for its day-to-day functioning.

Minister’s response

"There are certain limitations for the Government as it’s a private temple and not Government-run. However, the matter has already been discussed with the Malabar Devaswom Board and we will intervene if needed," said Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes K. Radhakrishnan.

The PKS has raised three demands: direct access to all devotees, irrespective of their caste and tribe, to the temple be allowed; allow all devotees to directly offer money in the temple and stop the practice of the calling out the names of castes while distributing food and introduce a buffet system for the feast.

The PKS has filed a complaint in this regard to the Minister.

The temple authorities, when contacted for a response to the PKS demands, declined to comment.

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