In the latest development over an ongoing conversion row in Tamil Nadu, a Dalit man from the village of Pazhangallimedu in Nagapattinam district has filed a police case against a group of 11 upper-caste Hindus after they refused to allow Dalits to participate in a festival ritual.
M Ramani, in his complaint filed with the Vettaikaraniruppu police, said that he had been forced to register a criminal case under the 1989 SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities act after the upper-caste community in the village refused to allow Dalits to perform mandagapadi during the Aadi festival at the local temple.
The refusal has caused a nearly three week long standoff between the two communities, with over 160 Dalits threatening to convert to Islam should the issue not be resolved in time for the festival rite, which falls on August 12.
“Mandagapadi means ‘offering money as tribute to the divine’,” says P Vetrivel, president of the Badrakaliamman temple trust, which is at the centre of the ongoing disputes. “And it is this specific aspect that the upper-caste members of the village do not want the Dalits to participate in.”
This, Vetrivel says, is “completely unacceptable” - especially as the temple used to be a place of worship exclusive to the Dalits when it was originally constructed.
“When the caste structures were broken down in the village after Independence, the temple became a common place of worship for everyone,” says Senthil Kumar, district union leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), and the man leading the protests.
Several peace talks held between the District Collector’s office, local political leaders, and members of the two communities have failed to come up with a solution, however.
The last round of talks, held on July 30, also failed to resolve the problem.