//Orissa Dalit villagers view temple deity from outside after ban

Orissa Dalit villagers view temple deity from outside after ban

Kendrapada (Orissa), Nov 27 (IANS) Hundreds of people in an Orissa village peered at a deity through apertures in the temple wall after a court last week banned their entry over a dispute on allowing Dalits to worship.

Security was tight at the 18th century Jagannath temple at Keradagarh village in the coastal district of Kendrapada, 90 km from here, as devotees – upper castes and Dalits – craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the deity through holes in the wall over the weekend and also Monday.

Dalits are barred from entering the temple by Hindu upper castes as a part of an ages-old practice.

"Dalits were entitled to see the deity only through the nine holes in the wall earlier, but after the court ban the upper caste people too saw the deity through it and performed rituals outside the temple in the way Dalits do," temple priest Narayan Dash said.

Both the groups have been at loggerheads over the issue for over two years. However, trouble erupted two weeks ago when the Ambedkar-Lohia Vichar Manch rights group announced that Dalits would forcibly enter the temple. An advocate, Akhya Kumar Mallik, had filed a public interest petition in the Orissa High Court in the first week of November seeking protection for Dalits when they enter the temple.

Dalits had declared they would enter the temple forcibly on Nov 19. They later rescheduled the date to Nov 26.

In view of the tension in the village, deputy district chief Raghunath Padhy filed a petition in the high court seeking that status quo be maintained in the temple. In response, a division bench of the high court on Friday banned the entry of people into the temple, barring the priests and staff until disposal of the petition

In November 2004, villagers beat up four Dalit women for entering the temple. Dalits have tried to enter the temple several times but have always been prevented by the upper castes. The village, with a population of about 1,400, has 400 Dalits.

Dalits in Orissa are not allowed to enter and worship in many Hindu temples by the upper castes.

In Chauriberhampur village, on the outskirts of Kendrapada town, Dalits built their own Shiva temple in April after being denied entry into the local temple. They appointed a Brahmin as priest and people from upper castes are allowed to enter and worship.