When a head priest carried a Dalit on his shoulder
In a major attack on India's deep-rooted caste system, the head priest of Hyderabad's Chilkur Balaji recently carried a Dalit man on his shoulder into the revered temple's inner sanctum. The dramatic incident comes close at the heels of Dalit protests in North India over the dilution of SC/ST Act by the Supreme Court, earlier this month. Read on for more.
'Everyone is equal in the eyes of god'
The priest, CS Rangarajan, wanted "to show people that everyone is equal before god." Rangarajan and the Dalit man named Aditya prayed and performed rituals together in the temple. "The discrimination against Dalits stems from society, not from religious scriptures," Aditya said. Dalits, considered the lowest Hindu caste, were traditionally barred from entering temples. Some shrines don't allow them in even today.
It all started during a discussion on Dalit identity
A recent discussion on Dalit identity at a Hyderabad university prompted Rangarajan to make the bold move. During the talk, he told students about the ancient legend of a Hindu priest carrying a Dalit devotee into a temple on his shoulders. When students said it couldn't happen in today's India, Rangarajan decided to show everyone that it could and so he did it himself.
'I hope others do the same'
Of course, he doesn't expect everyone to literally carry Dalit men on their shoulders. "But they must welcome Dalits into temples and to participate in rituals," Rangarajan said. He hopes his act motivates people to shed caste-based discrimination. After having grown up in a village that didn't allow Dalits into temples, Aditya hopes the incident initiates positive change.
A new beginning?
Though it's impossible for standalone incidents like this to undo years of discrimination and abuse, they are sure reminders of what should be. "Such inequality will hardly disappear overnight. But actions like this will certainly have a positive impact," Dalit activist Vamsa Tilak told BBC. Taking a cue from the chief, several other priests have also decided to allow Dalits in their respective temples.
Over 40,000 crimes against Scheduled Castes reported in 2016
More than 40,000 crimes against Scheduled Castes were reported in India in 2016, according to Amnesty International's assessment released in November 2017. Moreover, despite manual scavenging being prohibited, at least 90 Dalits died last year while cleaning sewers, claims the report.