Caste discrimination in places of worships

“Discrimination at temples”

Annadhanam which ended in death Incident: 1 There is a famous verse – “Annadhanam is best dhanam.” On 3.3.2007, an Annadhanam event occurred in Karamadai Srirenganathar Temple at Mettupalayam. Around 8.30pm, 6 dalit boys including Thandapani, Perumal, Siva, and Gowtham went to the temple to participate in the Annadhanam event. Noticing their presence, some caste Hindus abused them, saying “how could low caste dalit dogs sit equally and have food with us?” and brutally assaulted them. Thandapani passed away on 4.3.2007 due to severe injuries sustained from this assault. In response to Thandapani’s death, Singanallur police filed FIR in Cr.No. 261/2007 under IPC section 147,148,302, and police arrested the accused. In April 2008, Kovai sitting bench court gave the judgment of life imprisonment for only two of the accused. Discrimination among cows Incident: 2 Peikaruppankottai village is under Orathanadu-Pappanadu police station jurisdiction. There the Melayiamman Temple festival was held on 16.1.2008, featuring a running race among cows as an event. Running race among cows? The cows are made to stand in line, and then crackers are fired, causing the cows to run forth in fear. The cow who reaches the finish line first is named the winner. In that day’s competition, a cow owned by dalit Muthuraman (21) S/o Sevugan had been selected as winner. The caste Hindus were outraged. Around 30 members of a violent Caste Hindu gang brutally assaulted the village dalits. As a result of this assault, 8 dalits sustained serious injuries. Pappanadu police filed FIR in Cr.No. 22/2008 under IPC section 147, 148, 294(b), 323, 324, 355, 307 r/w 3(1) (10) of SC/ST Act. 20 houses were destroyed due to worship Incident: 3 Avarampatti village is situated near Nilakottai in Dindigul district. On 4.4.2007, a dalit boy went to worship at the village’s Kalliamman Temple. Noticing his presence, a Hindu gang intervened and threatened him that “dalit dogs should not enter the temple.” Sasikumar did not care for this threat and again entered the temple. The caste Hindu gang in anger destroyed 20 houses. 2 houses were incinerated. 9 dalits sustained severe blood injury. Several caste Hindus also sustained injuries. In both communities people lodged complaints, and based on the complaints FIR was filed. Incidents such as this continue to persist in Tamilnadu. Particularly, murders are increasing due to caste based discrimination practiced in many temples. It has become usual to hear of incidents each day such as dalits denied from carrying the vadam (an event followed during festival), two dalits murdered for demanding equal justice, a brutal attack on dalits for touching a deity (8 sustained severe injuries), dalit women sexually assaulted for participating in a temple festival, denial of a deity procession in a dalit colony causing a clash between two communities, houses destroyed, school certificates burned and many possessions looted. The village temple is the main cause of Uthapuram’s violations. For the violations in Kandadevi village, the main reason for violations is the temple as well. Violations during an election in Keeripatti and Pappapatti also centered on the temple. These are but few of the examples which illustrate the prevalence of violations based on temple discrimination. It is not necessary to ask whether God or the temple itself is responsible– the truth is that caste based violations in the name of God and temple have caused many social ill effects. Did this problem emerge today or years ago? Temple entry problems have occured for many years. In the year 1891, Ayodhidasar pandidhar petitioned Chennai Mahajhana sabai, demanding dalits to be allowed in Saiva and Vainava Temple (but this petition was unsuccessful). In 1918, he organized a temple entry protest in Vaikam at Kerala. After four years of struggle, he finally succeeded. During the year 1928, Dr. Ambedkar conducted a temple entry protest at Kalaram near Nasik. Like the above examples, many have carried out temple entry protests for the past 120 years. In the year 2008, our Tamilnadu Government created a scheme “Anaivarum Archagar Akalam”– but this scheme has been surrounded by controversy. The temple should be a place of peace and truth. How then have so many temples become places of discrimination? According to spiritual thought, “all are equal before God.” Our EVIDENCE organization considers that denying temple entry for a particular community is a “democratic murder.” If temples are directed by Hindu Aranilaya thurai department, what reasons do they have for this kind of discrimination? Does the government frame any schemes to eliminate this kind of discrimination? If so, do these schemes work properly? It is necessary to find answers for all the above questions. Objectives of research study Is discrimination practiced in temples? If so, what sort of discrimination is practiced? What are reasons behind this practice? What are social changes are affected through this discrimination? How can we rectify this problem? What are the recommendations to be followed? To find answers for the above questions, our EVIDENCE team conducted this study discrimination in temples. Methods and limitations of research This research was conducted in 85 Panchayats in five districts: Madurai, Tirunelveli, Virudhunagar, Sivagangai and Dindugal. The questionnaire form used contained 38 questions in three parts. Our five fact finding teams conducted this study. Among 85 Panchayats, 18 Panchayat presidents reported that “discrimination persists in their village,” confirming their testimony by signing the questionnaire form. All forms were confirmed by signatures. Our fact finding team also photographed some temples where discrimination was practiced. Discrimination at temples From our study we found that temple discrimination is practiced in all 85 Panchayats surveyed. Among 85 Panchayats in 69 villages, dalits are denied from entering the local temple. In 72 temples, dalits were denied from entering Sanidhanam. In 56 temples, dalits were denied from performing Archanai. In 54 villages, deity processions are not allowed though dalit residing areas. In 56 villages, dalits are discriminated against during worship. In 52 temples, an event Parivattam has been rejected for dalits. In 33 villages, dalits are denied from an event vadam pidithal. 59 temples practice discrimination for dalits in providing prasatham. In 65 villages, priests and saints show discrimination against dalits. In 64 villages, dalits are denied from participating in cultural events or temple festivals. In 60 villages, discrimination is evident during the event Palkudam and Firepot. Violations and atrocities Our study found that in 49 temples, atrocities had occurred. In 47 temples, dalits were abused on caste basis. In 42 temples, dalits were abused with filthy language. In 37 temples, dalits were teased. In 20 temples, dalits were sexually abused. In 8 temples, dalits we’re sexually assaulted. In 30 temples, dalits were subject to brutal attacks. In 43 villages, dalits were threatened. Death and economic loss Due to violations at temples in 7 locations, houses were destroyed. In 6 locations, property was destroyed. In 13 incidents, dalits sustained injuries. In 9 incidents, dalits were killed. In 7 incidents, dalits were physically injured. In 1 incident, dalits were sexually assaulted. In 8 incidents, dalits were subject to social boycott. Legal intervention and its results Among all the incidents of discrimination disclosed to our researchers, only in 15 incidents were legal interventions made. 13 complaints were issued in police stations, 10 with a Deputy Superintendent of police, 10 with a District Superintendent of police, 7 with the State Human Rights Commission, 4 with a Director General of police, 5 with the Chief Secretary, and 3 with the National Human Rights Commission. Only in 3 incidents has action been taken. What are the reasons for violations and atrocities in temples? Temple discrimination stems from a caste Hindu belief that dalits entering the temple would negatively affect the “spiritual holiness” of the space. Mostly temples were considered as “spontaneous assets” for caste Hindus. Many also believe that dalits entering and worshipping in the temple is godly sin. Justifying caste dominance through religious practice in turn justifies discrimination. Despite the many religious excuses for these discriminatory practices, the truth of caste discrimination remains. Various caste clashes have occurred during the past three months (February-May 2009). Among these clashes, our EVIDENCE team directly conducted fact finding research in 12 cases. In the cases studied, 5 dalits were murdered, 1 lost his vision, and one dalit sustained a fractured bone in his hand. Among these 12 cases, in 8 incidents persons intervened and questioned the present temple discrimination. In many of these clashes, women were sexually assaulted, forcibly undressed, or had their modesty outraged. Many sustained injuries. Six of these incidents are described below. Incident 1: The Kalyana Sundariyamman temple festival occurred during the days of 17.5.2009 to 27.5.2009 in Chembaloor village, Pattukottai Taluk, Thanjavur district. On the last day of the festival, a 30 member caste Hindu gang, armed with weapons including sickles, knives, and wooden logs brutally assaulted and tortured 10 dalits. Dalit woman Jeyalakshmi (35), w/o Murugesan, lost her eyes in this attack, and a bone near her eye was fractured. Around 10 stitches were required on her eye. Five dalits Karthick, Gavaskar, Shivaji, Gnanasekaran and Subbramanian sustained severe head injuries in this attack. Only five accused attackers have been arrested. Incident 2: In Kottakudi village is near Melur, Madurai district, some dalits had hoisted the flag of the Viduthalai Siruthaikal party in their village. Though other political flags are present near the temple, the local caste Hindus threatened the dalits to remove their flag to the outskirts of the village, away from the temple. After the dalits refused to remove their flag, on 25.5.2009 around 25 caste Hindu gang members using knives, sickles, and wooden logs, led an assault in which 9 dalits were severly injured. The caste Hindu gang stripped off the saree of dalit women Pandimeena (27), wife of Thirupathi, and outraged modesty. The gang also forcibly undressed 17 year old minor girl Malar. A 7 year old boy Abimanyu was also brutally assaulted in this attack, causing a serious wound on his left ear which became infected. Police arrested 10 accused in this case. Incident 3: Vilampatti village is near Nilakottai, at Dindigul district. Here, the operations of Muthalamman Temple are jointly performed by members of four different communities. Temple accounts are maintained by members of the Pilaimar community, security work is by performed by members of Thevar community, the deity car procession is performed by members of the Muthiraiyar community, and cleaning of the temple is performed by dalits. On 9.4.2009, during the temple festival, dalits were not allowed inside the temple while the deity was taken out for the procession. When some the dalits attempted to participate in the fire pot ceremony, a caste Hindu gang of about 20 members with deadly weapons attacked the dalits. The dalits retaliated in self defense, injuring a few caste Hindu attackers. Over 10 dalits sustained blood injuries and some sustained head injuries. Incident 4: Boothipuram village is near Usilampatti, at Madurai district. On 10.4.2009, the Sathanamariyamman Temple festival featured songs opposing dalits. When dalit youth Vaikalthurai (19) publically objected to these songs, 7 caste Hindu gang members forcibly undressed him and attacked him with slippers and stones. Vaikalthurai required treatment for 13 days in Madurai Government Hospital for the injuries he sustained in this attack. Incident 5: Chokkanathanpatti village is near Thirumangalam at Madurai district. Muthalamman temple festival is celebrated in this village, featuring a stone pelting ceremonial event. On 9.4.2009 caste Hindus had purposely threw stones at dalit Mayavatharan (40) S/o Sundararajan during the ceremony. This incident fulfilled the threats which caste Hindus had made previously during the month of January in the Mattupongal festival. Mayavautharan had lodged a complaint in the police station the day of her attack. Outraged at this intervention, 50 caste Hindus with deadly weapons entered the residential area of the dalit community, waging an attack which left 4 with head injuries. None of accused attackers were arrested by the time of this writing. Incident 6: Senthatti village is under Chinnakovilankulam police limit, in Sankarankoil Taluk, Tirunelveli district. Here dalits were denied from entering and worshiping in Mupidathi Amman temple, causing quarrels between the dalit and caste Hindu communities. On 6.3.2009, a dalit Periya Madasamy (38) S/o Easwaran, was verbally abused by a caste Hindu woman while returning from his field. The woman insulted him, saying “how dare you dogs, how courage you are asking equal rights in temple, and now walking in our streets.” The two engaged in a lengthy argument on the street. The same day, 20 caste Hindu gang members brutally attacked and murdered Periay Madasamy’s father Easwaran (53) and Paramasivam (25) S/o Periyasamy. The accused were arrested by the police. Only a few of a vast number of incidents have been described here, many of which are ignored by the press. We found in our research that the police rarely take action against the accused in temple discrimination violations, instead choosing to call both parties for a peace meeting, acting as a “traditional administration.” In most cases affecting dalits, police purposely file counter-FIR on the victims, indirectly supporting the involved caste Hindus. Outside of these procedures, an “un-written law” exists in the consistent practice of allotting unbailable sections for dalits, while filing simple sections for caste Hindus. Throughout these incidents, about 90-95% of the affected people are dalits. Despite the immense violence against dalits, the police continue to act in a negligible and highly objectionable manner. Sections under SC/ST Act has been filed against the accused. Likewise police purposely register cases under IPC sections against dalits which is unbailable. As a civil society we would like to point out that it is sorrowful that the sufferings of dalits such as physical injuries, sexual assaults, and murders due to caste clashes are consistently ignored by the media. Recommendations: • A detailed research study should be conducted all over Tamilnadu regarding the forms of discrimination practiced in places of worship. This research should be conducted by human rights activists, journalists, and retired judges. The report should be brought out as a white paper, to help execute schemes to eradicate discrimination in worship places. • Discriminations regarding the rights of dalits to enter temples or participate in temple events or rituals should be considered violations. Indian Constitution article 15 describes that discrimination should not be practiced on the basis of caste, religion, work or birth. Section 3(1) (14) of Prevention of Atrocity Act (SC/ST Act) describes that dalits should not be denied from participating in public events. Though we have many laws, much discrimination still exists. A special law at the national level should be framed against those who practice discrimination in public places and public events. • Government should take action under the Goondas Act against those who practice discriminations in places of worship. • Caste- based temples, traditional temples, and private temples should come under government supervision. Discriminatory practices in temples such as caste based partiality, caste based respect, and caste based methods of worship should be prevented. The government should frame general rules for methods of worship and traditional events. (A.Kathir @ Vincentraj) Executive Director