MADURAI: In a welcome development, dalits of Uthapuram village participated in the consecration ceremony at the Muthalamman temple on Friday morning at the invitation of non-dalits of the village, who administer the temple.
A group of 30 dalits led by K Ponnaiah and Sankaralingam walked down to the temple premises, located along the Usilampatti - Elumalai Road, about 50 kilometres from Madurai, and witnessed the consecration ceremony. Holy water was sprayed on them from atop the temple tower. Dalits left the temple premises after the consecration ceremony, but later expressed their interest to offer prayers to the deity and, subsequently, police made arrangements after holding discussions with the non- dalits in charge of the temple.
An hour later, the group returned to the temple, presented their puja articles to the idol which was kept outside the sanctum sanctorum and offered worship. "Last Saturday, they invited us to participate in the consecration ceremony and we were glad to honour the invitation. We have planned for the consecration of our temple in the next few months. We will also invite them,'' said K Ponniah, an ex-serviceman.
Superintendent of police, Madurai, V Balakrishnan described the event as historic. "We are continuously talking to people to bring fundamental change in their mindset,'' he said. Tirupur SP Asra Garg, who started the work to build bridges between the two warring communities during his stint as Madurai SP, also termed the event as a positive development. "The animosity has come down by 95 per cent,'' he said. Though Garg was transferred to Tirupur, leaders of both dalit and non- dalit communities invited him to participate in the ceremony, but apparently he was sent officially to Uthapuram.
About 400 police personnel were deployed in the village to prevent any untoward incidents.
Despite the visible bonhomie between the Pallars and Pillaimars in the morning, the undercurrent of inter-communal tension was palpable. A few dalits were vocal in their scepticism about the event since the idol was placed outside the temple during the consecration ceremony on Friday. "We would admit that untouchability has been eradicated only if they allowed us into the temple," said Ponnaiah.
However, the non-dalit Pillaimars rationalised that since it was a consecration festival the presiding deity was placed outside the temple and even the non-dalits worshipped from outside. On other occasions, the idol is placed inside the sanctum sanctorum and non-dalits offer prayers from a hall in front of the sanctum sanctorum. Dalits complain that they are not allowed to enter the hall.
A senior police official contended that decades of bitterness and hostility cannot be brought to end overnight and needed sustained and patient efforts to build bridges.
Uthapuram hit the headlines a few years ago when the media reported the existence of a wall that non-dalits in the village had built to keep off dalits. Though the untouchability wall, as it was described in the media, was demolished, animosity between the two communities prevailed.
However, the stand-off between the two communities was over the Muthalamman temple, built several decades ago. "The high court ruled that the temple rights lie with us. But we wanted dalits to participate in the consecration festival as a goodwill gesture. We are glad that they participated. We will continue the efforts to maintain peace and harmony in the village,'' said S P Murugesan, a Pillaimar representative.
It was in November last year that dalits in the village could enter the temple and offer prayers, first time since 1989.
[Courtesy: TOI, June 30, 2012]