MANGALURU: The deep-rooted caste system and practices like untouchability just don’t seem to go away. Angry and hurt that separate seating arrangement had been made for people of the upper caste, several Dalits and OBCs from Chandkuru and surrounding villages in Belthangady taluk on Wednesday boycotted a six-day festival in a centuries-old temple.
The six-day Brahmakalashothsava festival is celebrated in the ancient Chandkuru Sri Durga Parameshwari Temple annually. Shekhar, a dalit activist, said “All was well until the mass feeding began around noon. The volunteers overseeing this were guiding the upper caste people to a particular section. To make identification easy, most of the upper caste men came without shirts and the volunteers identified the locals even with their shirts on.” This practice is called ‘Pankthi Bedha’ where separate seating arrangement is made for upper caste people, he said.
Stung by this indifferent treatment, some dalits and OBCs brought it to the notice of the office-bearers of the temple’s Brahmakalashothsava Committee headed by MLA Harish Poonja. However, they were asked to keep mum and were told that nothing can be done at this stage and “making a fuss” would only upset the celebrations, Shekhar said.
A dalit from Chandkuru village, who was closely associated with the preparations for the celebration, said he was very upset by the “inhuman practice”, especially when it was the dalits and the OBCs who worked hard to make the festival a success.
“We were upset when various sub-committees were formed to oversee different works of the celebrations. The panels reeked of casteism. Upper castes were made in charge of plum committees that took care of renovation and finances while the dalits and OBCs were made to take care of decorations, vehicle parking, collecting offerings and maintaining cleanliness. But we kept quiet,” he said.When contacted, MLA Harish Poonja denied the allegations. He said separate seating arrangements were made during lunch only for the priests who were a part of the festival and added that this is a common practice everywhere.