People's Democracy

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


No. 09

March 03, 2013






CPI(M) Out to Fight Caste Discriminations


V J K Nair


THE made snana is an abominable practice going on in many of the Subramanya temples in Karnataka. But the custom, as it is practised at the Kukke Subramanya Temple in Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada district, drew the attention of rational minded dalit activists a few years back. The objectionable part of this practice is that the socially discriminated people from the tribe of Malai Kudiyas, dwelling in nearby forests, roll over on plantain leaves having the leftover food after Brahmins have dined in the temple.


It was against this practice that a dalit leader, Sivaramu from Mysore, staged a protest in 2010 and was beaten up by VHP activists there. The issue then drew attention of other anti-communal and anti-caste activists. This particular episode too attracted a lot of support and solidarity from many quarters including some swamis who opined against caste discrimination and social deprivation as well as against the exploitation of dalits and adivasis.




The Karnataka state unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxists) has for long been seized with the issue and, to resist the evil practices, it had planned to stage protest actions against the panktibheda, another abominable custom in vogue at the Udupi Srikrishna Temple. It was around this time --- after the party’s Karnataka state committee had taken a decision to oppose these evil practices and when the state leadership was discussing the modalities with the district committees in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts --- when the Sivaramu episode and his protest took place. Initially there was reluctance on the part of some party activists about staging protest actions against the Udupi mutt and Krishna Temple even if it was against patently evil practices. However, the protest action by Sivaramu, the solidarity and support he received and the stir his protest created helped the party to plunge head-long into the thick of anti-caste struggle.


Held in January 2012 at Chickaballapur, prior to the 20th congress of the party, the CPI(M) state conference decided to stage a militant protest action at Udupi on January 26, 2012. About 2,000 party activists, drawn from throughout the state, participated in this protest action which received a good response. On the day, the police prevented the protesters from proceeding towards the temple and arrested them. Thereafter the protesters had dispersed.


On this occasion, Visweswara Theertha Swamiji of Pejawar mutt, which is one of the eight paryaya mutts at Udupi, came out with a statement showing displeasure at the discriminatory practice. However, the swami, who is one of the all-India vice presidents of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), also justified the practice by saying that the upper castes too have to protect themselves from mixing up with persons who eat non-vegetarian food. This is how the Swami sought to establish himself as a dharma rakshaka (defender of the faith) even while professing that he is not really against dalits.


After the January 26 protest, the party noted that there was encouraging response from the people of the area and it decided to organise a more militant protest. In the meantime the episode involving made snana went on drawing a lot of attention. The state government approached the High Court of Karnataka to facilitate the continuation of the practice at Kukke Subramanya. The state government also in submitted to the court in November 2012 a proposal, given by Pejawar mutt swami , that ede snana, instead of made snana, might be performed at the Subramanya Temple. Surprisingly, the High Court too found nothing wrong in ‘devotees’ rolling over plantain leaves containing the prasada from the temple instead of the leftovers. But the CPI(M) opposed this proposal too, and demanded a complete stop to discriminatory and casteist evil practice at the Kukke Subramanya Temple. 


However, the Sangh Parivar intervened in the legal battle and a paper organisation of theirs in the name of Malai Kudiyas succeeded in getting the Supreme Court’s permission for continuation of the practice of made snana at Kukke Subramanya.  Moreover, Hindutva organisations in Dakshina Kannada district proclaimed that they would not allow the cattle fair to be held at Kukke Subramanya as, according to them, this enables butchers from Kerala to buy the old cattle and transport them to Kerala.  On the other hand, leaders of the Malai Kudiya community protested against this illegal ban imposed by the VHP on the age old practice of holding a cattle fair, for it has been a part of their living. The forest dwelling Malai Kudiyas rear cattle and bring them to the fair for sale. They said the temple flag could not be hoisted at the Kukke Subramanya Temple unless the cattle fair was held there.  The people of the area were also interested in the holding of the cattle fair; all over the area people believe that they can get best bullocks only by tying them to ploughs and trying them at the Subramanya temple. 




The CPI(M) took due note of the feelings of the Malai Kudiya community and decided in the last part of 2012 to highlight the issues. It decided to take out a jatha from Kukke Subramanya to Mangalore, hold a large meeting there in December 2012, and then start a padayatra from Mangalore to Udupi and simultaneously another from the northernmost tip of Udupi district to Kundapur and therefrom to Udupi.


A vehicle jatha, accordingly, started from Subramanya on December 21 and a large public meeting was held at Mangalore on the 23rd. Then Veerabhadra Chenna Malla, the swami of Nedumamudi mutt, in Bagepalli, inaugurated the padayatra from there. He is a Lingayat swami who, in solidarity, came down to Mangalore to inaugurate this jatha. It was he who had spearheaded the solidarity movement against the made snana practice at Kukke Subramanya, and had assembled several heads of religious institutions at Bangalore against it. This was why the CPI(M) invited him to inaugurate the padayatra starting from Mangalore. 


From the party centre, Srinivasa Rao, a member of the CPI(M) Central Secretariat, participated at the public meeting at Mangalore.


These padayatras in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts proved successful. They were widely welcomed by the people who largely attended the meetings. 


M A Baby, a member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, attended the programme at Udupi on December 27. Among other things, he referred to some healthy elements of the Krishna Bhakti tradition, and by cited the song “Krishna Nee Begane Baro” in Karnataka music, sung by Balamuralikrishna Srikanta. He also narrated the experience of the social reform movements in Kerala in the last century. For example, there was a satyagraha at Vaikam against the prohibition imposed on the non-Brahmins walking in the streets around the temple. This had also attracted stalwarts like Periyar, some Akali leaders and Barrister Joseph etc. Late Comrade P Krishna Pillai suffered several attacks at Vaikom and later at Guruvayoor when he went against the tradition and asserted the dalits’ right to ring the temple bell. Kelappan led the Guruvayoor satyagraha when late Comrade AKG was the captain of volunteers. M A Baby urged upon the Udupi mutt to end the discrimination against the lower castes and end the panktibheda there.


Earlier, CPI(M) state secretary G V Sreerama Reddy inaugurated a public meeting at Ajjanakaadu at Udupi. The meeting was addressed by CPI(M) state secretariat members B Madhava, V J K Nair, Maruti Manpade and G N Nagaraja, with K Shankar presiding over it.


This meeting was also addressed by Sivaramu, the dalit leader who had initiated the movement against made snana at Subramanya two years back. He offered to hold in his native place, Mysore, a large meeting of intellectuals who are committed to end the wrong practices in Hindu religion and called upon the CPI(M) to spearhead the movement.



Soon afterward, the entire people assembled there totalling about 2,000, who had come from all over the state, marched to the Sri Krishna mutt where M A Baby addressed the marchers and the local people. There the CPI(M) state secretary announced that these people had not come there to disperse after observing a symbolic protest. Announcing militant actions in the days to come, he said the people we have a right to enter the Udupi Srikrishna Temple and demanded an end to the casteist practices there which are unconstitutional and illegal. He also told that the police have no right to stop the marcher.


Thereupon the assembled mass surged forward, trying to break the cordon, when the police resorted to brutal lathicharge whereby several people were injured. As many as 176 CPI(M) leaders and activists were arrested and taken to the police station. Sivaramu too, while sitting in the police van, witnessed the brutality going on outside. Reportedly under instructions from the BJP minister in charge of the districts of South Kanara and Udupi, the police foisted false cases not only against the activists who were detained and arrested on January 27, but also against M A Baby and against the CPI(M) state secretariat members like V J K Nair who were earlier not taken into custody, K R Sriyan who had left earlier with M A Baby, and against G C Bayya Reddy.


Against the lathicharge that was broadcast live, the CPI(M) organised protest actions and meetings all over the state on January 27 to 29. These took place at Dharwad, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Kundapura,  Bangalore,  Raichur, Lingasuguru, Sindhanoor; Kolar; Bijapura, Uttara Kannada, Davangere, Kodagu, Soiddapura, Mysore, Hassana, Mandya, Belgaum, Shimoga, Chickaballapura, Bellary (where the police arrested the protesters), Siriguppa, Hospete (where protestors gheraoed the home minister, Hagari Bommana Halli, and were arrested), Gulbarga and several other places.


A good section of the media also condemned the police brutality while hailing the Udupi protest against made snana and panktibheda.


The Udupi protest against caste discrimination by the CPI(M) evoked a reaction from Pejawar mutt swami who criticised the communists as ungodly and non-believer people who had interfered with the practices at the Krishna Temple in Udupi. He also challenged the communists that there are hundreds of other places where the panktibheda is practised, as also there are over 20 Subramanya Temples in the state where the made snana takes place.




The Udupi protest evoked supportive actions by the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti and other anti-caste groups as well as some swamis. But, as we have seen, the reaction from the Sangh Parivar and its leader at Udupi, the Pejawar mutt swami, was very strong. The Sreerama Sene went to the extent of issuing a warning to the CPI(M) against any anti-caste demonstration at Udupi while the Pejawar mutt swami accused the CPI(M) of choosing Udupi specifically. The swami even questioned the communists as to why they should come to the Udupi Srikrishna mutt as they are non-believers. The party’s answered was: the swami should have noted that it was non-believers like Periyar Ramaswamy Naiker etc who conducted the Vaikom satyagraha while P Krishna Pillai, one of the founders of Communist Party in Kerala, entered the Guruvayur Temple and rang the bell though he received severe and brutal beatings from the temple guards. AKG, who was known personally to the Pejawar mutt swami, was also one of the communist leaders who conducted the Guruvayoor satyagraha.


The Karnataka unit of the party also clarified that the fight was not against any god or the Udupi temple but in the interest of believers who are being discriminated against by the so called protectors of religion. The CPI(M) also pointed out that while the Pejawar mutt swami and the Sangh Parivar shout from the roof tops that Hindus are One (Hindu Ondu), they hypocritically practise discrimination against a section of the Hindus. This is what the CPI(M) is opposing.


The Pejawar mutt swami also posed another challenge to the CPI(M). His question was: if the made snana is practised in all the Subramanya temples and not at Kukke Subramanya alone, why the communists should concentrate at Kukke Subramanya and Udupi alone? But the fact is that the party has already identified that the practice is there at about 21 Subramanya temples in Karnataka. The party has also decided to mobilise public opinion, gather forces and campaign against such evil practices everywhere. The party has asked every district committee to identify the temples where the made snana, panktibheda and other kinds of caste discrimination are being practised and to launch movements this very year.


On February 12, 2013, the CPI(M) organised a Dalit Rally at the Freedom Park in Bangalore in which over 10,000 dalits, about 5,000 of whom were women including a large number of devadasis, participated. This was organised as a step to fight the social atrocities and caste discriminations and for a betterment of the economic and social position of these people. The party is paying special attention to the issue of devadasis who are dalit girls forced into sanctified prostitution by the orthodox system. The party has, among other things, demanded that the government make a monthly payment of Rs 1,500 for each devadasi who gives up the traditional occupation, construct dwellings for them at a cost of Rs two lakh per family, and allot each of them two acres of cultivable land. The party in Karnataka is thus, while paying attention to economic struggles, moving ahead to take up the issues of social and caste discrimination also. This way the CPI(M) is committed to fight against the casteist and communal forces and to champion the people’s rights and interests.