The age-old vexatious issue of denying Dalits entry to the Sri Maha Muthu Mariamman temple at Neeramani in Vriddhachalam block has been amicably resolved by the district administration.
Following the resolution, the Dalits, along with the caste Hindus – mostly Vanniyars and Udayars – sank their differences and jointly went to worship at the temple on Aadi Velli (July 20).
During the peace committee meeting on July 18 chaired by Vriddhachalam Revenue Divisional Officer I. Anandakumar, it was agreed to have a common entry point for all castes to the temple. As far as encroachment of temple property was concerned the villagers agreed to follow court direction.
It was resolved to form a five-member panel, comprising two Dalits, two members of other communities and one common person (to be elected unanimously) to work towards communal harmony and take steps to remove irritants that might disrupt peace.
District Collector Rajendra Ratnoo told The Hindu that it was more of a counselling session than peace committee meeting.
The villagers were informed of the stringent provisions of the Act relating to untouchability.
Officials stressed that in the modern era there could not be any discrimination, overt or covert, in a welfare State.
The over 200-year-old temple, which is now under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department, celebrates the temple festival once in three or five years. Since the temple caters for eight surrounding hamlets, the festival is celebrated over eight days, providing chance to each hamlet for performing puja.
On June 15 it was the turn of the Dalits, but the temple priest was hesitant to perform the rituals.
Even fire-walking and temple car procession were curtailed; while the fire was extinguished, the car procession was stopped midway.
As an explosive situation emerged, the administration deputed a large contingent of police to Neeramani for maintaining peace.
According to R. Babu of the Social Awareness Society for Youths, and M. Nizamudeen of the Consumer Federation Tamil Nadu, the organisations that took up the issue, till now, the Dalits could view the deity only through a gap provided on the temple wall. They could perform anga pradakshanam (rolling on the floor) only outside the temple compound.
With the issue amicably resolved, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi gaven up its plans for ‘road roko’ on July 20.