Dalits win temple rights

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  • Published 3.12.09

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 2: The Chateshwar temple in Cuttack district shed its prejudice by opening its doors for Dalits today.

Led by veteran Gandhian Subba Rao, hundreds of Dalits, including sweepers, cleaners, night-soil collectors and leather tanners, joined the “Harijan padyatra” to reach the temple in Satyabhamapur where they were accorded a warm welcome by the temple authorities.

Otherwise known as “ritually polluted”, the Harijans — mostly women — offered prayers and sang bhajans with their upper caste counterparts today. “In the past, we had several rounds of talks with the temple committee but they were hesitant. Finally, we were able to convince them,” said Biswajit Ray, the ex-convener of the Rashtriya Yuva Sanghatan.

Ray said Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave visited the Puri Jagannath temple along with people of the minority community and the Dalits in 1934. However, despite their best efforts, the then Puri temple authorities did not allow Gandhiji’s entourage comprising Muslims, Christians and Dalits to enter the temple. Protesting the move, Gandhiji launched a “Harijan padyatra” from the temple’s Singhadwar. Gandhiji asked: “Why should there be any difference between men in a temple of God?”

“Today, we have entered the 75th year of Gandhiji’s padyatra and this entry to Chateshwar temple marks our continuous fight against untouchability,” Rao said.

“The programme is especially relevant today when Orissa is engulfed in a deep social divide. Our intention is to apply a soothing balm of sensitivity as well as sensibility on social scars like untouchability,” he said.

The Chateswar temple, built by King Anang Bheem Dev III in 1211, is a popular Shaivite peetha in Satyabhamapur, the birthplace of Madhusudan Das, the architect of separate Orissa province and a social reformer.

Some 500 Harijans joined a 45km procession — organised under the banner of Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan entities, including Kasturba Gandhi Rashtriya Smarak Trust and Utkal Gandhi Smarak Nidhi — from Bairi in Jajpur district on Monday. The procession went through Chhatia, Champapur and Veda villages before it reached Satyabhamapur, about 40km from here, today.

Security was put in place to avoid any untoward incident. However, the entire episode was peaceful and there was co-operation from all fronts, said Ray. “The move should be taken as a positive change and should be replicated at the Jagannath temple,” said development activist and Gandhian Bhagbanprakash.