Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Dalits barred entry into temple

By Mohammed Iqbal

JAIPUR, JAN. 13. Activists participating in a national Dalit Swadhikar rally that crossed Rajasthan the other day were denied entry into the famous Shrinath temple in Nathdwara, despite a 15-year-old judgment of the Rajasthan High Court directing the State Government to ensure unhindered access for Dalits to the temple.

The rally, organised by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, started from four different locations in the country last month and would culminate in Mumbai on January 15 at the World Social Forum venue. The northern segment, starting from New Delhi, arrived in Nathdwara after covering 16 districts in Rajasthan on January 2, when the participants tried to enter the Shrinath temple for worship.

The convener of the Centre for Dalit Human Rights, P.L. Mimroth, who accompanied the rallyists, told reporters here today that hundreds of people assembled in the town and stopped the rally -- comprising 35 Dalit activists -- about 2 km from the temple and used abusive and threatening language against them. The crowd comprised local residents belonging to the so-called upper castes and was determined not to allow Dalits into the temple, considered the second richest in the country. Though the rallyists could have visited the temple without being noticed, the people recognised their caste status after spotting a local Dalit, Kishan Lal, among them.

"They were the normal next door people whom we regularly meet in our daily life. But when it came to the temple, they were adamant on not allowing us inside so as to protect the sanctity of their religion,'' Mr. Mimroth said, adding that Dalits had always been exploited for selfish interests of upper castes but never treated equally.

The people of Nathdwara town especially took exception to the clothes and ribbons worn by the rallyists displaying slogans demanding equality for Dalits. Ironically, the rallyists had informed the local police authorities beforehand about the march and a police escort was provided to them. But when the policemen saw hundreds of people collecting on the road, they did nothing to disperse the mob and expressed their inability to help the rally go ahead for want of adequate force.

The Dalits, while avoiding any confrontation, abandoned the idea of worshipping inside the temple and left the place after a brief verbal duel with the crowd.

A similar situation had arisen in 1988 when the Arya Samaj leader, Swami Agnivesh, wanted to lead a batch of Dalits inside the Nathdwara temple on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary and approached the Rajasthan High Court with a plea to direct the State Government to ensure that entry was not denied to them by imposing any discriminatory conditions.

The High Court held that denying the Dalits entry into the temple or putting any conditions on them was in violation of Article 17 of the Constitution prohibiting untouchability in any form and directed the State Government to permit every devotee, including Dalits, to enter the temple in accordance with the general practice of entry applicable to all.

Mr. Mimroth regretted that nothing had changed during the past 15 years and the next generation of upper castes had inherited the same anti-Dalit mind-set.

He said the denial of entry to the Dalit rallyists was not an isolated incident and the local Dalits too were unable to enter the temple, not just in Nathdwara but in other important places of Hindu worship elsewhere as well.

The Centre for Dalit Human Rights has sent memoranda to the Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje, and the chairpersons of the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes and the State Human Rights Commission, urging them to take appropriate measures to facilitate entry of Dalits into the Shrinath temple and strict enforcement of Article 17 of the Constitution.

Source: The Hindu, January 14, 2004

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