.........JAGATSINGHPUR: Caste discrimination still holds the sway in certain temples in this part of the State. In the latest incident, the ugly face of social menace came to fore when an engineering student of Scheduled Caste community was barred from entering a Shiva temple.
As per reports, Rojalini Sethy, pursuing engineering in a private college in Bhubaneswer, had come to her village Badgaon under Balikuda police limits of the district to celebrate New Year with her family. On Thursday morning, she went to Sankeshwar temple to offer puja. But, the priests refused to perform puja and prevented her from entering the temple as she belonged to Scheduled Caste community.
Rojalini’s father Basant Sethy said, “Since we are Harijans, my daughter was turned away from the temple by priest Narahari Panda. We have been deprived of basic social rights as Dalit families of the village continue to suffer from religious alienation.”
Sources said there is a strict restriction on entry of 20 local Dalit families into the Shiva temple as per the tradition.
Former Sarpanch of Badgaon Hemant Sethy said it is illegal and unconstitutional to restrict entry of Dalits into temples. Earlier, the villagers had conducted a meeting and advised the Dalit families to approach the priests at Mukti Mandap in Puri Jagannath temple. But the families failed to go to Puri because of the travel expenses, he said.
Following the incident, Basant sought the help of village chief and sarpanch to resolve the issue but local priests including Narahari and some upper caste persons refused to budge from their stand and vowed not to allow Dalits into the temple.
On the same day, Narahari called a meeting of the villagers, most of whom were upper caste persons. The meeting decided to continue with the tradition and restrict entry of Dalits into the temple. Local priests argued that caste-based temple controversies are nothing new. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was stopped at the gate of Puri Jagannath temple as she was deemed an outcast for marrying a non-Hindu, they said.
After the meeting, tension flared up as the Dalits raised objection to the decision. Demanding justice, Basant sought intervention of the Collector and SP in the matter. The Dalits also threatened to intensify protest if steps were not taken to end the tradition and allow them inside the temple.
Badgaon Sarpanch Niharika Biswal admitted that Rojalini was barred from entering the temple. “There is a tradition of not allowing Dalits into the Shiva temple of the village. Steps are being taken to resolve the dispute,” she said.