For 200 families of Scheduled Caste Parayas, their right to enter and worship in the Sri Pekkaman Karuppasamy temple at Anaiyur Kokkulam village, Tirumangalam taluk, in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu, remains a dream. The temple is located on a piece of `porombok’ (government) land, but is owned and maintained by the Piramalai Kallar caste, a dominant caste Hindu group of about 900 families in the village. Despite representations and requests, the caste Hindu group has refused Dalits entry into the temple. Frustrated at this, the Dalits have decided, with the support of various Ambedkar and Periyarian movements, to enter the temple on July 31.
Ironically, the main pujari (purohit) of the temple is a Dalit. Only he and some 10 families from the Paraya caste are allowed into the temple by the caste Hindus, while all other Dalits in the village, some 200 of them, are denied the right to enter and offer worship at the temple.I In the past one decade, Dalits had made several representations to the Madurai district administration, seeking its intervention to restore their right of worship. But nothing happened.
P. Kamala, a mother of two children and a resident of the Ayothidasar Colony in the village, filed a writ petition before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court and sought judicial intervention in the issue. She pointed out that it was a common temple for both Kallars and Parayas. She alleged that the village head, Kodi Chandrasekar, the seventh respondent in her petition, was against Dalits’ entry into the temple.
She told the court that she submitted a petition to the then Collector of Madurai district on April 5, 2018, asking him to resolve the issue, but to no avail. They were not allowed to pay taxes for the temple and were denied entry, both of which were in violation of “Articles 17 and 25” and against Section 3 (which ensures “rights of all classes of Hindus to offer worship in temples”) and Section 7 (which punishes those “who prevent a Hindu from exercising any rights”) of the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorisation Act 1947.
Responding to the petition, Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and S. Ananthi, on April 27, 2021, noted that the temple was not under the control of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Tamil Nadu government. The temple, the bench was told, was constructed on public land by the Kallar caste though a Dalit pujari performs pujas. Justice Sivagnanam, who wrote the order, said that it “appears that only 10 members of the community to which the writ petitioner belongs are permitted to worship. It is not clear as to why such a restriction is imposed.”
The judge further asked the authorities to “consider whether the seventh respondent can prevent any person from entering the temple”. The Bench directed the Tirumangalam Tahsildhar “to consider the petitioner’s representation and examine whether there is any genuineness in the claim of the petitioner and what was the issue that precipitated the problem and make every endeavour to resolve the controversies”. The bench ordered that the direction should be complied with within a period of 12 weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.
On July 21, TIrumangalam Tahsildhar Muthupandi convened a peace committee meeting, which Kamala objected to. She said the court had not issued any such instruction in its order. Sending a representation to the Madurai Collector, she said the writ was filed to get their right to worship at the temple. “It is our fundamental right. Hence instead of allowing us to worship, convening such a meeting will only delay the issue,” she said and added that she had attended and deposed in one such meeting at the Office of Tahsildhar at Tirumangalam on July 16, 2021, in which she had narrated her grievances in detail.
Anbazhagan, a Dalit who was denied entry into the temple, told Frontline that Parayas play an important role in the temple festival traditionally. The villagers had to seek the services of a Dalit soothsayer, Chinnasamy, to get the `God’s sanctioning’ to conduct the `Eruthuvidu festival’, celebrated once in two decades, and the annual Adi festival. “Without his permission, delivered under trance, no festival would be performed,” he pointed out. He said the Parayas played a major role in all pre-festival rituals too. “Despite these facts, barring 10 Dalit families, no Dalit is allowed to enter the temple even during non-festival days,” he said.
Many Dalits in the village claimed that it was a common village temple. “But it was slowly usurped by a few people belonging to the Piramalai Kallar caste. The temple has valuable assets, such as land, which are being enjoyed by the few Kallar caste people. Hence, they do not want to give up their hold on the temple administration. They instigate innocent villagers against the Parayas, who have started questioning their authority,” said Mariappan, another Dalit in the village.
Meanwhile, the police had to remove the caste Hindus who had taken over the temple totally and prevented all others from entering the temple. The temple has been brought under police protection as of now. A protest by various outfits demanding that the district administration take steps to allow Dalits into the temple was organised in Madurai on July 28. The situation, though under control, remains tense.
This story first appeared on frontline.thehindu.com