Dalits get just 3 minutes to pray
The kumbabishekam (consecration) of the Muthalamman temple in Uthapuram village in Madurai district, which is known for its caste strife, passed off without any major incident as 130 Dalits offered prayers and donated offerings to the deity in two batches for brief periods of three and 15 minutes amidst tight security and cries of opposition from caste Hindus on Friday.
Initially, an all-men group of 30 Dalits were allowed to watch the consecration for three minutes and then a group of 100 Dalits made offerings and prayed for 10 minutes as the idol, was taken outside the sanctum sanctorum and kept near the temple entrance.
The Dalits, chanting hymns, took coconuts and garlands for the Godess on the occassion of the temple’s consecration (Kumbabishekam) but the priest was reluctant to let them make their offerings. However, after police intervention, the priests accepted the garlands while caste Hindus present near the temple raised objections. “Don’t adorn the deity with their garland. My wife has pledged her jewellery to donate money for our community festival, please don’t accept their offerings,” a man shouted and police had to pacify the crowd.
“I kept stretching a garland to the priest, but he refused to take it. We went in good spirits hoping that this gathering will be a turning point in our history, but caste Hindus insulted us by not even placing our garland on the idol,” said Pandi, a 62-year-old Dalit.
The palpable hostility at the temple premises was a clear proof of the prevailing uneasiness between the members of both the communities. While there was an air of celebration in the streets where caste Hindus lived with banners fluttering in the air and relatives joining the families for the special occasion, a sombre mood prevailed at the Dalit colony, where people gathered in knots and discussed among themselves in hushed tones. The banners put up by caste Hindus were to take credit for organising the temple festival and sweets were distributed on the visitors.
Children and teenagers from caste Hindu homes, dressed in new clothes, watched the consecration from the terraces of their houses, when none of the Dalits were dressed up for the festival. Tirupur SP Asra Grag, who was on special duty, has been urging Dalits to participate in festival since morning. As a precautionary measure, police had prevented vehicles from passing hrough Uthapuram.