A mob of upper-caste villagers in Uttarakhand’s Chakrata region injured BJP parliamentarian Tarun Vijay and some Dalit leaders on Friday afternoon for allegedly going into a temple where the entry of backward caste people is prohibited.
Rajya Sabha member Tarun Vijay, local Dalit activist Daulat Kunwar and other members of the community were hit with stones while coming out of the Silgur Devta temple in the remote Punah village – around 180 kilometres from state capital Dehradun.
“The (upper caste) villagers of a nearby area had organised a bhandara (feast in honour of local god). The irritated villagers pelted stones when they saw the Dalit crowd coming out of temple and injured all of them,” a police official said.
Police said the injured MP was rushed to a nearby military hospital as the irate crowd damaged his car and threw it into a gorge.
Chief minister Harish Rawat ordered an inquiry by the Garhwal commissioner. “The CM said the incident is not acceptable and strict action will be taken against those found guilty. The CM condemned those responsible for the deplorable incident,” said Surendra Kumar, media adviser to Rawat.
The entry into Silgur Devta temple was the start of a campaign by the Dalit community in the state against a centuries-old tradition that forbids them from entering and worshipping at 349 temples of the hill state’s Jaunsar-Bhabar region.
Dalit leaders have said they will forcibly enter the temples, especially five popular shrines in the Chakrata region. The BJP MP who is retiring from the Rajya Sabha next month was backing the campaign.
Dubbed the holiest land for Hindus, the Himalayan state is studded with thousands of temples, many of which have been off-limits for backward-caste people. Many Dalit villagers HT spoke to last week expressed fear of an upper-caste backlash to the temple entry campaign.
The incident comes amid a nationwide debate on caste-based discrimination following the suicide of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad earlier this year.
Caste-centric discrimination, including untouchability, was banned in India in 1955, but centuries-old feudal attitudes persist in many parts of the country and Dalit people, who represent 16% of the country’s population, still face prejudice. They are sometimes beaten or killed for using a well or worshipping at a temple.
Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was stopped at the gates of the Jagannath temple in Puri as she was deemed an outcaste for marrying a non-Hindu.
In 2014, a temple in Bihar’s Madhubani district was “purified” — the shrine cleaned and its idols washed — after a visit by then chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, a member of the Musahar community.
Last year, a 90-year-old Dalit man was brutally attacked with an axe and set on fire for trying to enter a temple at Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh.