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Karnataka: Dalits enter village temple for the first time, earn upper caste boycott

Kottihalli Dalits in Karnataka claim village fair was stopped abruptly and they were ostracised. Forward caste Hindus stop interacting with Dalits, but deny social boycott.

india Updated: May 29, 2017 17:52 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Karnataka,Dalits,Caste boycott
Kottihalli’s ‘savarnas’ insist the fair being called off was not related to Dalits entering the temple. (Vikram Gopal/HT Photo)

The bull of Kottihalli village temple vanished on May 19. It was found within hours, but tongues wagged in the village of 200 households in Tumakuru district, around 75 km northwest of Bengaluru.

The bull run happened on Day 1 of an annual four-day fair of Goddess Kucchangiyamma. On the third day of festivities (May 21), for the first time in Kottihalli’s history, Dalits were to enter the temple under an agreement engineered by the police.

The fair ended abruptly that Sunday shortly after Dalits stepped out of the temple.

“The bull ran away because of the Dalits,” is a jibe Kottihalli’s Dalits allege they heard from ‘savarnas’ (forward caste Hindus). “We also heard the bull had stopped eating because Dalits entered the temple,” said Mahalingaiah, 53, a Dalit resident of the village.

A day before the fair, police had held a peace meeting between Dalits and ‘savarnas’. The Dalits had petitioned the police to ensure they faced no caste-based discrimination during the event.

“We entered the temple about 5 am, but the priest refused to perform the puja,” added Mahalingaiah. “The priest agreed after police intervened. We offered prayers till about 7 am.”

He added, “After we came out of the temple, the savarnas started taking down decorations around the temple. We were told the fair had ended.”

Tumakuru deputy superintendent of police, K Nagaraj, said, “We had gathered all the residents (on May 18) and told them that temple entry for the Dalits would have to be allowed. Everybody had agreed.” Police saw the agreement crumbling.

Dalits say the temple bull running away for a few hours is being used to taunt them. ( Vikram Gopal/HT Photo )

Kottihalli’s ‘savarnas’ insist the fair being called off was not related to Dalits entering the temple.

“An old woman who lived near the temple had died about a week ago and, as is the norm, there is a period of mourning. That is the reason the fair was called off,” said Ranganna, 45, a Vokkaliga (’savarna’), who runs a fair price shop in the village. “It is all a misunderstanding. We have lived in the village as members of the same family.”

But Ranganna’s account incensed the dead woman’s son, Kumar, also a Vokkaliga. “How dare they say the fair was called off because of my mother’s death? The mourning period ended three days before the fair. If they really were mourning for my mother, they should not have conducted the fair at all,” he said.

After the fair’s end, Dalits claim ‘savarnas’ stopped interacting with them. Kottihalli has 50 Dalit households located in a cluster.

Police organised yet another peace meeting on Thursday to resolve the crisis, but the ‘savarnas’ did not turn up.

An elderly ‘savarna’ resident of the village who did not want to be named said Dalits had enjoyed reservation, drawn the benefits of education and were more affluent. “You cannot say anything against them, even if they have benefited from the state’s largesse.”

The temple priest, Chikkanna, who belongs to the Kuruba caste (classified as an Other Backward Class), justified his reluctance to assist Dalits in offering prayers. “I told them that they could conduct the puja themselves.” The village has two Kuruba households and members of these families have traditionally been the priests.

Kottihalli’s ‘savarnas’ denied they had ostracised the Dalits. “We did not attend the second peace meeting because we were not informed in advance,” said fair price shop owner Ranganna.

Dalits refuse to buy this. “On the fourth day of the annual fair, the idol of Goddess Kucchangiyamma is taken out in a procession around the village. But the procession does not come to our part of the village. For about six years, we have been asking for the procession to pass by our houses too. After all, we too pay for the fair,” said Kemparajamma, 60, who is among those leading what Dalits see as a fight for assertion of rights.

First Published: May 29, 2017 16:36 IST