A temple entangled in clash between castes

S Gopinath Reddy

MAHBOOBNAGAR, May 2: The serene atmosphere in Nellikondi, a tiny village located 10 km off the Mahboobnagar-Raichur road, was disturbed a couple of months back after Dalits succeeded in entering a newly-constructed temple and performing pooja.

Since then, the upper castes and other backward classes have "abandoned" the temple and are stated to be waiting for an opportunity to strike back. The Dalits too are prepared to face any eventuality despite non-cooperation and humiliation from the other group.

The upper caste farmers have not been engaging the Dalits in any agricultural operation, forcing most of the Dalit families to starve. It all started during the ninth round of Janmabhoomi in January. The police and revenue officials who convened a "grama sabha" sought to know whether untouchability still prevailed in the village with a population of 3,000. One third of the villagers were Dalits. The Dalits, particularly youth, complained to the authorities about their entry into the AnjaneyaSwamy temple being banned. The officials took it as a challenge. A week later they descended on the scene with a huge posse of policemen and asked the Dalits to perform a pooja. It sparked off the trouble. While, as a precautionary measure, a police picket was posted at the temple for more than a month, upper caste people "abandoned" the temple.

"The situation is bad. They are after our blood," says septuagenarian Ramanna. Recalling that an old temple existed at the place where the new one was constructed, he told The Indian Express that he was one among the few Dalits who took part in the construction a few decades ago.

"There is no change. We were allowed neither then nor now," he said. After the incident, upper caste people stopped engaging Dalits in works. But for the beedi manufacturing unit, Dalits would have starved to death. On one particular day, armed with sticks, the upper castes raided the Dalit locality looking for youths who performed pooja.

Another DalitMashanna said: "They abandoned the temple. And the village administrative officer locked it up, keeping the key with him." Those desiring to go to the temple have to obtain the key from him. But, no Dalit ventures to do so.

But an upper caste man Kondanna has a different tale to narrate. The Dalits did not contribute their share for construction of the temple. Though the manner in which donations were collected appeared dubious, several upper caste men have defended their action. "How do you expect us to deviate from the age old customs?" shot back A Malla Reddy. He argued that Dalits were given a long rope. The main culprit behind the entire episode was suspected to an R M P M Narayan Goud. According to some villagers, Goud instigated upper caste youths to ensure that Dalits did not enter the temple. He was the one who collected the donations too.

However, Goud pleaded ignorance. "I do not know anything? You better ask the sarpanch," he told this reporter. According to him, no restrictions wereimposed on Dalits and they themselves did not want to enter the temple. But he had no reply when asked why Dalits raised the issue during Janmabhoomi.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers

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