Unwilling to bear any more with the repeated humiliation of being denied entry into a temple, hundreds of Dalits in Orissa's Kendrapada district on Thursday threatened to change their religion.
Dalits have always been prevented from entering the 18th century Jagannath temple at Keradagarh village in the coastal district of Kendrapada. Upper castes of the village claim it is part of their ages-old practice.
Rajkishor Muduli, a Dalit leader of the village, told that Dalits have decided to hold a meeting near the temple on Nov 19 under the Ambedkar Lohia Vichar Manch banner and also enter inside to perform religious rituals.
"We have invited Dalits of nearby villages to join hands with us," he said. "If we are not allowed inside the temple we will change our religion."
However, he did not say what religion they planned to convert to.
There are about 400 Dalits in the village, located about 45 kms from the district headquarter of Kendrapada. The village has a population of about 1,400.
In November 2004, villagers beat up four Dalit women after they somehow managed to enter the temple. The Dalits tried to enter the temple several times but were always prevented by the upper castes.
"We have also approached the National Human Rights Commission," said Muduli.
Dalits in Orissa are not allowed to enter and worship in many Hindu temples by the upper castes.
In Chauriberhampur village, on the outskirts of Kendrapada town, Dalits built their own Shiva temple in April this year after being denied entry into the local temple. They appointed a Brahmin as priest at their new temple and allow people from upper castes to enter and worship.