People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44

November 01, 2009

 Finally, Lord Siva's Doors Open for Dalits

Temple Entry Struggle Succeeds in Chettipulam, TN

S P Rajendran


DALIT people of Chettipulam on October 27 entered the Ekambareshwarar temple to offer prayers, amid considerable police security. They were led by the district collector and the district revenue officer.

The temple entry followed an agreement reached at peace talks on October 26 between dalits and caste Hindus.

Chettipulam, a village in Vedaranyam taluk of the east coast district of Nagapattinam in Tamilnadu experienced a month long struggle of dalit people to exercise their right to enter the historic temple of Ekambareshwarar, a form of Lord Siva, under the banner of Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) and Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Exactly one month ago, on 30 September, hundreds of dalits, led by P Sampath, state convenor of the TNUEF, and V Marimuthu, CPI(M)  MLA, marched towards the temple but the police blocked their way one kilometre before the temple. The processionists then broke the police barricade. But only a little ahead of the temple, the police again stalled the dalit people from entering the temple. The temple was, moreover, locked illegally by caste Hindus in order to prevent the dalits from entering the temple. However, the dalits insisted that the police must break the lock and allow them to enter. But the police refused to do so. The divisional revenue officer, who was there, suddenly sealed the lock and thereby barred the entry of one and all into the temple. After the peace talks, he assured that the temple would be opened for dalits shortly. However, all the agitators were arrested.

The very next day, led by the village panchayat president, caste Hindus broke the seal open and entered the temple. They also declared that the dalits would never be allowed to enter the temple at any cost. Leaders of the TNUEF and CPI(M) then met the district collector as well as other government officials, asking them to intervene in this matter, warning that otherwise they would be forced to lead the dalit people again to enter the temple. Following this attempt, the district administration did interfere and took a group of dalit people from the village in two police vans for entering the temple on October 14. The district revenue officer and the district superintendent of police led the team.

Caste Hindus and their goons mobilised in a large number tried to block the way leading to the temple. They also pelted stones and iron scraps against the policemen and their vehicles, injuring several policemen and the district superintendent of police. The district revenue officer�s vehicle was damaged heavily. The police then felt compelled to resort to lathi-charge. Later, they fired into the air to disburse the caste Hindu crowd. The dalits in the police vans, however, returned home without entering the temple. The police registered cases for illegal assembly and indulging in violence against 250 people under several sections, and arrested 25 people. Tense situation came to prevail in this area.

Condemning this incident, both the TNUEF and CPI(M) urged the state government to arrest those involved in perpetration of violence against dalit people, under the PCR Act and under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act. They also demanded that they ensure the dalits� entry into the temple. Against this incident, a powerful demonstration was held at Vedaranyam of Nagapattinam district on October 20, condemning the casteist forces who unleashed violence in order to prevent dalits from entering the temple.

The district collector of Nagapattinam later announced that the government would arrange for the entry of Chettipulam dalits into the Ekambareshwarar temple. This announcement created a sense of confidence among the dalits who have welcomed it.

In this background, arrangements were made for dalits to offer special prayers early in the day. As the police and district administration officials waited outside the temple for their arrival, about 75 dalits from Therkku Kaadu dalit habitations were taken to the temple in vans escorted by police personnel. Women and men jostled with one another as they crossed the threshold of the temple and walked towards the sanctum sanctorum with flowers, garlands and coconuts as offerings to the idol.

As they craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the deity, the district revenue officer and the collector personally collected their offerings and passed them on to the priest in the sanctum sanctorum for special prayers.

While community leaders, including Chettipulam panchayat president and vice-chairman of Vedaranyam Panchayat Union, waited at the entrance to felicitate officials including the collector and district revenue officer, officials stepped aside to personally usher in the dalits into the temple.

The collector C Munianathan and district revenue officer A Annadurai personally served prasadam to every dalit inside the temple after the prayers.

Later, Munianathan expressed his unequivocal displeasure to the panchayat president and vice-chairman over the turn of affairs over the past fortnight. �Discrimination has no place,� he said.

He appealed to dalits to function normally without any fear and assured them of all administrative support. Police personnel would be stationed in the area for a few more days to ensure normalcy.

Villagers other than dalits were absent at the temple. Most of the men were said to be on the run following a crackdown by the police after the violence of October 14.

P Sampath, state convenor of the TNUEF expressed happiness on the successful temple entry of the Chettipulam dalit people and appealed the government to maintain peace in that area.