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Caste cracks in Kerala

Red Kerala is bickering over caste. And proving that religion is still the opium of devout Marxists.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2006 01:02 IST

Red Kerala is bickering over caste. And proving that religion is still the opium of devout Marxists. The moot question: can non-Brahmins become temple priests? The debate — triggered by the Travancore Devasam Board — has split the upper and lower castes.

The board, in charge of temple administration, is opposing the right of non-Brahmins to become priests. The Nair Service Society, an organisation of upper caste Nairs, had said non-Brahmin priests were performing rituals in a slipshod manner. “One cannot destroy Hindu customs and rituals in the name of progressive ideologies,” NSS general secretary Narayana Panicker said justifying the move to edge out the non-Brahmins.

The remark, set against the backdrop of assembly elections barely five months away, has assumed political colour. And almost all parties and social organisations have hitched their poll stars to the caste bandwagon. Several upper caste groups like the Yoga Kshema Sabha and Brahmina Sabha have welcomed the move, saying “allowing all and sundry to perform temple rituals would dilute the rich Hindu traditions”.

The reaction was instant. A non-Brahmin priest was prevented from performing puja at a temple in Pathanam-thitta district. However, the CPI-M, VHP and Congress have hit back saying it would bring back untouchability. “It is an affront to the Supreme Court, which has rejected exclusive claims of any particular caste to perform tantrik rituals,” said Vellapally Natesan, general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sangam, an outfit of backward Ezhavas. In 2002, the court had struck down the ritual of reserving priesthood on the basis of birth and caste.

First Published: Jan 04, 2006 01:02 IST