Dalits living in and around Uthamapalayam near Vellakovil here are eagerly awaiting the reopening of the village’s Mariamman temple, which was closed down two years ago following clashes between caste Hindus and Dalits.
Caste Hindus had restricted Dalits from entering the place of worship, triggering constant friction between the two groups.
The decision to reopen the temple follows a Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO)-led inquiry into the issue. The old Uthamapalayam Mariamman Temple, which belongs to people belonging to various castes from 13 villages, was brought under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act in 2005, after which Dalits were allowed to enter the temple.
In 2010, caste Hindus constructed a new Uthamapalayam Mariamman temple near the old temple, charging that the old temple had lost its sanctity due to the entry of Dalits.
A bitter dispute broke out between the two groups, when some Dalits, who went to the new Mariamman temple for attending its consecration function, were attacked by the caste Hindus on October 21, 2010.
After several Dalit welfare organisations launched agitations and formed the Uthamapalayam Temple Entry Agitation Committee (UTEAC) to press for temple entry rights to Dalits, the Dharapuram RDO imposed a ban under Section 145 for the new temple.
Meanwhile, caste Hindus filed a writ petition with the High Court against the RDO inquiry. The plea was rejected in 2011. Following an inordinate delay in conducting the inquiry despite a court order, the UTEAC filed another petition with the High Court on October 2012, demanding the immediate reopening of the temple.
Coming under mounting judicial pressure on the issue, the Dharapuram RDO Dhivagaran convened the meeting on April 4, 2013 with both the parties. However, no decision taken was at the meeting and the RDO assured another meeting soon to announce a solution to the temple row.
Speaking about the positive developments, UTEAC convener S Karuppaiah said, “The temple has remained locked for more than two years, following stiff opposition by caste Hindus. The government has also continued to delay the solution, citing the law and order issue. The RDO inquiry was conducted after various protests and efforts by organisations to ensure temple entry rights for Dalits and the abolishment of prevailing untouchability. We expect the announcement for the reopening of the temple and hope for its declaration at the next meeting.”
Dharpuram RDO Dhivagar said, “The preliminary inquiry was conducted for studying issues fully. The date for the next meeting would be announced later for taking a decision on the issue.”