The Madras High Court Bench here on Monday directed the Madurai Collector and Superintendent of Police to hold a peace committee meeting to resolve the row between Dalits and caste Hindus at Uthapuram near here over celebrating the annual festival of Muthalamman temple.

A Division Bench comprising Justice Chitra Venkataraman and Justice M. Duraiswamy also directed the local Tahsildar and counsel representing both parties to participate in the meeting. The Collector was asked to chair the session and file a report before the Court on or before October 6.

The interim orders were passed on a writ petition filed by the temple trustee, V. Marimuthu, seeking a direction to the police to provide security for the temple festival. He also sought to quash an order passed by the police denying permission for the festival apprehending law and order problem.

During arguments, petitioner’s counsel B. Saravana Kumar said that his clients were not against the entry of Dalits into the temple. However, U. Nirmala Rani, counsel for All-India Democratic Womens’ Association (AIDWA), said that the caste Hindus had objected to Dalits’ presence at a peace committee meeting held a few months ago.

To this, Ms. Justice Venkataraman said: "Forget about that. Let there be another meeting. We would like to have the cooperation of both the counsel in bringing about an amicable settlement to the issue. People should have a peaceful existence, why prevent anybody from attending a temple festival."

The writ petition originally came up for hearing before a single judge on August 21. He referred it to the Division Bench as it was seized of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by AIDWA seeking compensation for the Dalit residents of Uthapuram, who suffered injuries in alleged police excess on October 2.

Passing interim orders in the PIL petition, a Bench of Justices V. Ramasubramanian and D. Hariparanthaman had directed the government on August 4 to pay a compensation of Rs.15.2 lakh to 193 Dalits, including 43 aged people and 23 women who sustained injuries and underwent mental agony besides material damage.

The police excess had allegedly taken place after an argument between the Dalits and caste Hindus over painting the temple wall had snowballed into largescale violence with a mob hurling country bombs. The police had to fire teargas shells.

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