Struggles

Dalits Enter Jagannath Temple In Keradagada, Orissa

(People’s Democracy, January 7, 2007)

Keradagada in Kerdrapada district in Orissa is now in focus after some dalits entered a temple there, followed by predictable upper caste reaction. Keradagada was earlier in the princely state of Kanika and the Raja of Kanika had established one Jagannath Temple there.

When all the princely states were abolished after independence, the Kanika state was also abolished. Under the Hindu Endowment Act, the Raja remained the as “marfatdar” (trustee) of the temple trust, and the trust was declared a public trust. The Supreme Court, in a historic judgement in the year 1954, passed the order that all the properties including the Jagannath Temples are of public nature, and not of a private nature. Since then, all communities were performing puja in these temples, including the Jagannath temple in Puri. Even dalit marriages were performed inside the premises of Puri Jagannath Temple. The “Mukti Mandap” (Priests Court) also allowed dalit marriages inside the Puri temple.

Because of upper cast prejudices, however, dalits were at various point of time prevented from entering the temples in Orissa. Last year, dalits were prevented from temple entry in Earakanta under Balianta police station in Khurda district and Keradagada in Kendrapada district. But due to massive mobilisation and mass movement, the state government was forced to settle the issue of Earakanta. The CPI(M), Kisan Sabha and Agricultural Workers Union took an active part in this movement. AIAWU joint secretary Sunit Chopra also participated in the movement and mobilisation along with the state leaders.

However, there was no movement at Keradagada last year. This year again, dalits, organised under different dalit organisations, entered the temple. Upper caste Hindus and the Raja of Kanika opposed this move.

After different dalit organisations decided to enter the temple on November 17, the district administration prevented them from doing so in the name of law and order. There was yet another attempt to enter the temple on November 26.

The CPI(M)’s decision was to take an active part in this movement. Accordingly, the Kendrapada district committee of the CPI(M) mobilised hundreds of people to take part in this temple entry by the dalit community people. The CPI(M) state committee also issued a press release announcing support for the dalits’ right to enter the temple. CPI(M) state secretary Janardan Pati also went to Keradagad on November 26 to take part in the action. But the High Court’s intervention prevented the dalits from taking this step.

After November 26, the Orissa High Court passed an order that all the Hindus could enter the Jagannath Temple in Keradagada. This was in spite of the government plea for the maintenance of status quo for the preservation of law and order.

But this order of the High Court was also diluted by the state administration. The government and the administration opened another door for the dalit to enter the temple, not the main door of the temple. The upper castes as well as the dalits were prevented from entering the “garbhagriha” (sanctum sanctorum where the statues were installed) and have the darshan from a distance. While welcoming the High Court order, the CPI(M) demanded that dalits must be allowed to enter the inner parts of the temples all over the state of Orissa.

Though the High Court order has prevented the upper caste Hindus from making any retaliatory moves, now it actually depends on how the administration implements the High Court order. Only future will tell what eventually prevails — the High Court order or the vested interest of the upper castes.

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