Temple festival in Tamil Nadu shelved for 4th year in a row over Dalits taking part
For the fourth year in a row, Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam district administration has cancelled Sri Badrakaliamman Temple festival in Pazhang Kallimedu village due to differences between various caste groups.
A section of Dalits in Pazhang Kallimedu Village in Vedaranyam Taluk wanted to perform Mandagapadi - special rituals ahead of the temple festival. However, dominant caste-Hindu groups opposed to their participation have again objected, leading to the festival being cancelled to preserve peace.
Although the temple is under the control of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Trust (HR&CE), a state-run institution which maintains more than 36,000 temples in Tamil Nadu, the government has been cancelling the temple festival since 2016.
Some 250 Dalit families are residing in Pazhang Kallimedu Village and 350 families of Pillai and Vanniyars — the OBC Hindus — are against the Dalits’ demand.
The Mandagapadi rituals involve a community being able to decorate the local deity with flowers, offer Pongal (sanctified food) and sacrifice animals to please the goddess.
Pillais and Vanniyars belong to landholding caste in Pazhang Kallimedu, while Dalits work as farm labourers and as fishermen.
Dalits in Pazhang Kallimedu have threatened that they would embrace Islam if they are not allowed to participate in the temple festival. Even those threats have not resulted in any change in the behaviour of the upper caste, they bemoan.
“Though it is a government-run temple, the district administration is not in a position to ensure our rights over the temple,” said K Tamilselvan, a Dalit representative from Pazhang Kallimedu.
Meanwhile, the upper castes are contending that allowing Dalits into the temple is against Agama rules.
“We don’t have any problem to allow Dalits into the temple. But, the temple’s age-old Aagama rules are against that. So, we are not ready to allow Dalits to do the Mandagapadi rituals,” said a caste-Hindu representative, who did not want to be identified.
The problem started in 2013 when Dalits asked for the Mandagapadi right having improved their economic lot due to schemes like MNREGA.
“We were allowed to enter into the temple before. However, when we demanded to do the Mandagapadi for the “Aadi Festival” which is held in the month of August every year, the upper castes objected to that. The Mandagapadi rituals are conducted for five days. While the first and last days of Mandagapadi rituals are reserved for HR&CE, in between three days are for OBCs. We Dalits asked the HR&CE to allocate either one of their days for us to do rituals. But, upper castes are opposed to that. As the tussle has continued since 2013, we moved a petition before the MHC in 2016. The trials of the case is ongoing,” said Tamilselvan.
Meanwhile, upper castes are trying to force innocent Dalit Women to agree that they don’t want to perform Mandagapadi.
“Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) job is major employment for Dalit women. However, upper castes are getting signatures from women saying that they don’t want to take part in the temple festival. The Kallimedu Panchayat Secretary, who is also a Dalit but a supporter of the upper castes, said Dalit women are forced to sign a declaration that if they want MGNREGA jobs they will not enter or participate in the temple festival. This is an attempt to submit as proof before the Court, “said E Ramani, another Dalit representative.
The panchayat secretary was not available to respond to Ramani’s claims on this count however.
After the Dalits moved the MHC, the upper castes had also filed a separate petition seeking the HR&CE to conduct the festival in the manner as it was conducted prior to Dalits demanding their rights.
The Court had recently directed the Nagapattinam district administration, HR&CE, to conduct a peace meeting with Dalits and upper castes, Vedaranyam Tahsildar B Elangovan had chaired a peace meeting on August 17. The meeting was futile as Dalits and upper castes were firm on their respective demands.
B Elangovan, Tashsildar, Vedaranyam Taluk said since both the Dalits and upper castes were firm on their stands they had no choice except to cancel the festival this year too.
“Both the sections have filed cases before the MHC. Even as the trial is ongoing, we tried to make peace among the Dalits and upper castes. But, they are not ready to give up their demands. At this juncture, conducting temple festival may lead to serious law and order problem. Therefore, we cancelled this for the fourth year in a row,” said Tahsildar.
He, however, said they will look into allegatgions of Kallimedu panchayat secretary asking Dalit women looking for MNREGA work to sign a declaration of them not wanting to participate in the temple festivities. ‘We have received no complaint in this regard. If we do, we will look into it,” he added.
S Sureshkumar, Collector, Nagapattinam district, did not respond to HT’s calls for comments on the issue.