Mohamed Imranullah S.

MADURAI: The Madras High Court Bench here on Monday refused to direct the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) Department to take over the Muthalamman temple at Uthapuram near here in order to put an end to a long-drawn hostility between Dalits and caste Hindus.

Disposing of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by a social activist, a Division Bench comprising Justice F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla and Justice K.B.K. Vasuki said that an order passed by the court, in favour of one party and against the other, might not help in finding a peaceful solution to the dispute between the two caste groups.

The judges felt that the issue could be resolved only through frequent peace committee meetings between the representatives of both caste groups. “We hope that the district administration will take necessary steps in that pursuit in order to bring a lasting solution to the crisis prevailing in the village,” they said.

M. Nagalakshmi, District Committee Member of Pengal Iyakka Peravai, a women's welfare association, had filed the PIL petition. Subsequently, A. Guruvijayan, State secretary of Bahujan Samaj Party, filed a sub application to include him too as one of the parties.

Tracing the history of the row between Dalits and caste Hindus of Uthapuram, Ms. Nagalakshmi said around 700 families were residing in the village, which withstood three major caste clashes in 1948, 1964 and 1989. There had been several casualties on all three occasions.

The focal point of the dispute was the denial of the right of the Dalits to access a Peepal tree opposite the Muthalamman temple, which had been constructed on government ‘poromboke' land. While the religious practices of Dalits centred mainly around the tree, caste Hindus gave more importance to the temple.

Initially, the caste Hindus built a compound wall around the temple as well as the tree, preventing the entry of Dalits. The latter were also not allowed to stand near the main road, for boarding buses, under the shade of the Peepal tree besides being prohibited from celebrating the temple festival by decorating the streets, she claimed.

Later, a lengthy wall separating the entire Dalit community from the residences of caste Hindus was constructed. A portion of the wall was demolished on May 6, 2008, after the intervention of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and human rights organisations.

After the demolition, the Superintendent of Police ordered the setting up of a police outpost in the village to prevent law and order problems. “But the irony is that the outpost was stationed in a building belonging to an association formed by the dominant caste, where the Scheduled Caste people cannot have access,” she said.

Pointing out that a wordy altercation between the Dalits and caste Hindus over painting the temple wall snowballed into large-scale violence on October 1, 2008, the women's association claimed the only solution to the continuing fight between the two caste groups was to direct the HR and CE Department to take over the temple.