Barred Entry Into Temple
By Mohammed Iqbal
14 January, 2004
participating in a national Dalit Swadhikar rally that crossed Rajasthan
the other day were denied entry into the famous Shrinath temple in Nathdwara,
despite a 15-year-old judgment of the Rajasthan High Court directing
the State Government to ensure unhindered access for Dalits to the temple.
The rally, organised
by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, started from four different
locations in the country last month and would culminate in Mumbai on
January 15 at the World Social Forum venue. The northern segment, starting
from New Delhi, arrived in Nathdwara after covering 16 districts in
Rajasthan on January 2, when the participants tried to enter the Shrinath
temple for worship.
The convener of
the Centre for Dalit Human Rights, P.L. Mimroth, who accompanied the
rallyists, told reporters here today that hundreds of people assembled
in the town and stopped the rally -- comprising 35 Dalit activists --
about 2 km from the temple and used abusive and threatening language
against them. The crowd comprised local residents belonging to the so-called
upper castes and was determined not to allow Dalits into the temple,
considered the second richest in the country. Though the rallyists could
have visited the temple without being noticed, the people recognised
their caste status after spotting a local Dalit, Kishan Lal, among them.
the normal next door people whom we regularly meet in our daily life.
But when it came to the temple, they were adamant on not allowing us
inside so as to protect the sanctity of their religion,'' Mr. Mimroth
said, adding that Dalits had always been exploited for selfish interests
of upper castes but never treated equally.
The people of Nathdwara
town especially took exception to the clothes and ribbons worn by the
rallyists displaying slogans demanding equality for Dalits. Ironically,
the rallyists had informed the local police authorities beforehand about
the march and a police escort was provided to them. But when the policemen
saw hundreds of people collecting on the road, they did nothing to disperse
the mob and expressed their inability to help the rally go ahead for
want of adequate force.
The Dalits, while
avoiding any confrontation, abandoned the idea of worshipping inside
the temple and left the place after a brief verbal duel with the crowd.
A similar situation
had arisen in 1988 when the Arya Samaj leader, Swami Agnivesh, wanted
to lead a batch of Dalits inside the Nathdwara temple on Mahatma Gandhi's
birth anniversary and approached the Rajasthan High Court with a plea
to direct the State Government to ensure that entry was not denied to
them by imposing any discriminatory conditions.
The High Court held
that denying the Dalits entry into the temple or putting any conditions
on them was in violation of Article 17 of the Constitution prohibiting
untouchability in any form and directed the State Government to permit
every devotee, including Dalits, to enter the temple in accordance with
the general practice of entry applicable to all.
Mr. Mimroth regretted
that nothing had changed during the past 15 years and the next generation
of upper castes had inherited the same anti-Dalit mind-set.
He said the denial
of entry to the Dalit rallyists was not an isolated incident and the
local Dalits too were unable to enter the temple, not just in Nathdwara
but in other important places of Hindu worship elsewhere as well.
The Centre for Dalit
Human Rights has sent memoranda to the Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje,
and the chairpersons of the National Human Rights Commission, National
Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes and the State Human Rights
Commission, urging them to take appropriate measures to facilitate entry
of Dalits into the Shrinath temple and strict enforcement of Article
17 of the Constitution.