Why Crime Is Rising Against Dalits
 

-Arun Singh Amit Chaudhury -India Today

In a corner of a dusty village near Ahmedabad, a temple stands out as an unusual project. It's being built by a low-caste woman, Pintooben.

 

She is the sarpanch of Rahemalpur village and is using her personal savings for the construction of the new shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

 

s she walks through the winding lanes of Rahemalpur to show the temple to India Today's special investigation team, the middle-aged woman stops short of climbing its unpainted steps.

 

ike numerous other fellow Dalits excluded from religion in Gujarat, Pintooben is not allowed to enter the sanctum of any Hindu house of worship. Custodians of the mainstream religion have drawn the boundaries for her and other low-caste worshippers.

 

After villagers demanded a new temple at Rahemalpur, the Dalit sarpanch generously sponsored its construction.

 

She says he has so far spent Rs 10 lakh to build the holy place. "It's my own money, not the panchayat's," she tells India Today's investigative reporters.

 

The sarpanch earns her living from selling the produce out of her 35-bhiga land.

 

"I was asked (by the people) to build it, so I gave the money for its construction. The devotion for God also resides inside," adds Pintooben.

 

 

"GOD IS DEFILED" BY DALIT PRESENCE

 

She invokes internal divinity during her conversation with undercover reporters because she's aware religion bars her from physically showing up at sacred sites.

 

And that's where the high symbolism of pluralism surrounding her efforts as a Dalit to build a temple fades out.

 

"You are spending so much, wouldn't you like to step into the temple?" asks an India Today reporter posing as a tourist.

 

"I'd like to, but there's opposition. There can be a ruckus," she says. "One among 100 may be there to object and say the temple has been defiled, the god has been defiled."

 

Pintooben summed up the fears of Gujarat's Dalit community socially banned from regular religious practices.

 

Last month, four low-caste men were stripped, humiliated and beaten with belts and rods for skinning a dead cow.

 

The video of the assault, which triggered widespread Dalit protests, reflected the snarling aggression of the state's dominant groups against the downtrodden.

 

 

GANDHI'S GUJARAT

 

But India Today's investigative crew found out the anti-Dalit discrimination ran much deeper in the land of the Father of the Nation.

 

The team observed untouchability, outlawed after independence, remains sanctified by religion.

 

isguised as regular visitors, India Today's reporters toured several temples in the state.

 

They noticed almost all of them nursed the ancient notions of purity and pollution, the bedrock of untouchability.

 

Temples were found to be shunning Dalits brazenly to preserve the so-called piety of the faith's upper-caste elders.

 

"You are welcome if you want to come in, but these men can't go inside. These people will sit outside," warns the priest of a Kali temple at Kota village in Gandhinagar as he segregates upper-caste worshippers from the low caste.

He would not allow the Dalit faithful into the hall housing the goddess.

 

So, they sit at the temple doorstep, a separate vase placed for them at the sill to take the tilak from. Priests refuse to touch them.

 

"Will you not even give them the tilaks?" asks an India Today's undercover reporter.

 

"They'll do it with their own hands. None of us does that," replies the priest.

 

Between the doorway and the gods stands a firewall that Dalits can't cross. They can't even partake of prasad with others, which is delivered to them separately.

 

 

DALITS AS PARIAHS

 

This ostracization is drawn from a wretched, antiquated belief that stigmatizes Dalits as a burdensome contamination and exalts their isolation as purification.

 

"If they sit where they are sitting now (which is outside of the sanctum), we do nothing. But if they come inside, we'll purify it with the holy water from the Ganga," explains a

temple caretaker, outlining age-old prejudices that label one type of people contagiously toxic.

 

Upper-caste priests like him treat the Dalits as pariahs both because of their occupations -- such as leatherwork and menial jobs -- and their birth.

 

Regardless of constitutional freedom and protection, the Dalits in Gujarat suffer religious alienation.

 

Even at big, touristy shrines like the Swami Narayan Nutan Mandir at Kotha in Gandhinagar, they are outcasts, as India Today's reporters saw.

 

"They (the Dalit worshippers) can have the sight of the gods from a distance but not from inside (of the sanctum)," says a temple custodian.

 

Living in terrible poverty and humiliation, the community has apparently reconciled to unconstitutional decrees.

 

At the famous Nag temple at Unava in Gandhinagar, Dalit devotees recoil inside their designated borderlines.

 

Temple seniors here justify the Dalit prohibition, citing their own convoluted theories on karma.

 

"They are prohibited... It's their karma," argues a Nag temple caretaker.

 

 

THE DALIT QUESTION

 

In ancient art, stratifications are depicted in the primordial being. It shows the Brahmans born from the head, the Kshatriyas from the arms, the Vaishyas from the legs and the low-castes from the feet of the creator.

 

The "cleanest" top is supreme and cannot mix with the bottom.

 

So, the temple caretaker defends estrangement of Dalits as a divine order. "God has prohibited them (from entering), not us. ...This is his (god's) ban," he insists.

 

"Will they be doomed if they enter?" asks the reporter.

 

"Yes, now you understood. It's his (god's) miracle. That's why they don't come in," he answers.

 

A low-caste worshipper waiting outside claims Dalits are forced out physically if they ever walk into the temples.

 

Too meek to resist, they bow to the pressure.

 

At another temple dedicated to Lord Ram, at Sadra in Mehsana, the priest blatantly displays upper-caste supremacy over faith, saying he's well within his right to deny entry to Dalits.

 

"If it's your private house, will you permit them? It's your home, it's your will whether or not admit anyone in," he says, juxtaposing a public house of worship with a private estate.

 

 

DALITS SCARED IN GUJARAT

 

India Today's team found out Gujarat's low-castes are now too scared themselves to visit temples.

 

Their fears are seemingly as deeply entrenched as the discrimination itself.

 

"The (upper-caste) villagers are very powerful. Five to seven men will be there at the temple. If I go there, they'll beat me up, reprimand me," says Mukesh, a Dalit at Vautha village near Ahemdabad. "They'll beat (me) inside the temple (if I ventured in)."

 

A fellow female Dalit, Rekha, echoes his concerns.

 

She tells India Today's crew that Dalits like her are not allowed to walk into the shrines.

 

Therefore, she avoids them altogether.

 

At Morva village in Mehsana, Mangal hasn't ever gone to a shrine since he was born.

 

"Why haven't you?" asks a reporter.

 

"It will create a controversy, a tussle. That's why," replies the Dalit. There shouldn't be any tussle. Life should pass peacefully, without fights and controversies."

 

Several local temples confirm Dalits themselves stay away from the holy places.

 

"They don't come. They know what it (the custom) is. If they want to sing a hymn, they can do it at their homes," claims a priest at a temple in Vani village.

 

This his age-old practice, he says, is impregnable. The poor and the prosperous Dalits comply with it alike, he claims.

 

"There's no declared rule. But it's prohibited. Whatever their education may be.... We have so many senior officials from the Dalit community. ...They (just) visit the village. It's a custom. They won't touch me. They'll only greet with Jai Siya Ram."

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