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Nod to Dalit temple entry

Cuttack, Dec. 5: Orissa High Court today paved the way for the entry of Dalits into the Jagannath temple at Keradagada in Kendrapada district, hitherto prevented by the upper caste people of the area.

“Every Hindu can enter the Lord Jagannath Temple at Keradagada,” the division bench of Chief Justice S.B. Roy and Justice M.M. Das ruled while directing the Kendrapada collector to take appropriate measures in the event of a law and order problem.

“The collector may pass prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC or under any other appropriate law to prevent law and order situation,” the court said, modifying an earlier order.

On November 24, the division bench of the high court comprising Justice I.M. Qudussi and Justice Nityananda Prusty had, in an interim order banned public entry, except for the priests and sevayats, into the temple. This followed a plea by the Kendrapada district administration, which sought a status quo order expressing apprehension of breach of peace and law and order problem in view of the plan by Dalits to enter the temple.

Several villagers belonging to the Scheduled Castes had subsequently filed an intervention petition requesting the court to permit them to enter the temple.

Responding to their plea, the high court today ruled that “every Hindu irrespective of his caste can enter any temple and offer puja”.

The state counsel, Jatin Mohanty, informed the court that the revenue divisional commissioner, central division, had already taken up the issue for settlement between the upper caste and the Dalits of the area.

A meeting of both parties for the purpose is scheduled within a week.

The temple entry issue had come up before the court with advocate Akhaya Kumar Mallik filing the petition praying for unfettered entry of Dalits into the shrine.

The Dalits had earlier announced that they would forcibly enter the temple on November 26.

Seeking judicial intervention invoking Article 14, 15 and 19 of the Constitution, the petition alleged that the local administration had been a mute spectator to the resistance by upper caste people to the entry of Dalits into the temple for a year.

The Dalits are allowed to have a glimpse of the deity through holes and they also offer prayers from outside the temple.

In November last year, upper caste villagers allegedly penalised several Dalit women for trying to enter the temple, the petition had alleged.

An uneasy calm has prevailed for over a month in and around Keradagada, which falls under Rajnagar tehsil, following plans by the Dalits to force entry into the temple.

Several platoons of armed police had been deployed by the administration, which feared a law and order problem in the area.

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