The Centre has urged the Supreme Court to ban a 500-year-old temple ritual in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where Dalits roll over food leftover by Brahmins to apparently cure skin diseases, solve marriage problems and infertility.
The social justice ministry called the practice “inhuman and superstitious” and said it affects human dignity and harms the health of those practising it.
But defendants of the practice say the ritual doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste and that it is voluntary.
In Karnataka, the ritual is followed during the three-day annual celebrations at Kukke Subrahmanya in the South Canara district in November-December.
In Tamil Nadu, the custom is seen every April as part of the annual Aradhana festival of the Nerur Sadasiva Bharmendrai Temple in Karur district.
The Union ministry says the ritual cannot be shielded under the right to freedom of religion under the Constitution.
“These rituals may be voluntary but since human dignity and health of concerned persons is affected and are against constitutional value of justice, equality and human dignity, they ought not to be defended under Article 25 of the Constitution of India which relates to right to freedom of religion,” an affidavit by the Centre reads.
In 2011, the Karnataka high court had modified the practice, saying the ceremony will be open to all and food offered to the deity will be placed on plantain leaves outside the temple. A willing devotee – irrespective of caste or religion – can roll over the leaf, the court had held.
The Karnataka government has told the SC that temple authority wasn’t connected with the ritual that was practised outside the shrine. It said even Brahmins roll over banana leaves containing leftover food and that only devotees perform the ritual, the state administration said.