KOCHI "There is not a single Dalit shaanti in any of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) temples," he told The Hindu. Moreover, of the nearly 10,000 employees in the TDB, only half-a-dozen were Dalits. "A couple of communities, who tom-tom about Hindu unity, has monopolised all the jobs in the TDB," says Kerala Dalit Federation president P. Ramabhadran.
He said Dalits constituted 20 to 25 per cent of Kerala’s Hindu community and hence they should get at least one-fifth of the Devaswom board jobs in order to maintain `community representation’ in temple jobs. Hehas sought at least one-fifth of temple-related jobs, including thantris and shantis, for Dalits. KDF plans agitation to press for non-Brahmins’ right to shanti at temples .
The KDF is planning to launch an agitation to press for non-Brahmins’ right to be considered for the position of shaanti at Devaswom temples. As a first step, dharnas by non-Brahmins trained in thantric rites and temple rituals would be held in front of the offices of the Travancore, Kochi and Guruvayur Devaswom boards.
Mr. Ramabhadran alleged that there was extensive corruption and favouritism in the recruitment for TDB jobs, including for shantis and thantris. "We agree with the NSS that a lot of undeserving and unqualified persons get appointed as shantis at the TDB temples," he said.
He suggested that the recruitment for Devaswom board jobs be handed over to the Public Service Commission. But, Hindus alone should be recruited. "The PSC conducts special recruitment for Dalits," he said. "If the PSC can recruit only Dalits for certain jobs, why can’t it do so for Hindus-only too?"
The other argument against PSC recruitment for temple jobs, he said, was that it was the Devaswom board, and not the Government, that pays the temple employees.
This contention does not hold water since the PSC recruits for jobs in the cooperative banks, he pointed out. "It is the cooperative banks that pay the salaries of the staff selected by the PSC and the same system could be adopted for Devaswom board jobs too," he said.
He also suggested the unification of all the Devaswom boards as well as the temple administration systems in the Malabar region. The KDF stood for appointment of Brahmins and non-Brahmins as shantis and thantris.
"Our stand is that any Hindu who has been trained in temple rites and educated in worship service should be considered for the priest’s post."
He said the contention that only Brahmins should do pujas at temples was the product of the `antiquated casteist mindset.’ He pointed out that there were so many non-Brahmin priests at temples all over the State. "No disaster has befallen on these temples and no deity has deserted these temples just because a non-Brahmin performs the puja," he said.
Referring to the ongoing row over the NSS stand on non-Brahmin shaantis, Mr. Ramabhadran claimed that the late founder of the NSS Mannath Padmanabhan had never objected to non-Brahmins becoming priests jobs. It was Mannam who had first challenged the `wrong traditions and practices’ at the temples.
Hindu, Jan9, 2006 http://www.hindu.com/2006/01/09/stories/2006010909530500.htm