‘77 yrs after Madurai victory, temples still shut for Dalits’ (July 12) discussed the issue of Dalits being barred from entering temples in several parts of the state despite the Temple Entry Authorisation and Indemnity Act, 1939 allowing their entry. The article also spoke about the waning interest of the Dravidian political parties in taking steps towards this social reform in the state.
The contribution of Dravidian political parties in introducing social reforms in the state has been enormous. In fact, the real public opinion in favour of the temple entry was created only by the Dravidian movement. The temple entry agitations were actually conducted by the followers of Thanthai Periyar from the 1920s.
The Vaikom agitation under his leadership was not launched originally for the temple entry of untouchables. It was to give the oppressed the rights to approach and access the streets adjoining Sri Mahadevar temple at Vaikom. Despite being the first agitation for the cause of human rights in the country, it was opposed by the then Congress party under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi in 1924. Periyar was arrested twice and imprisoned.
It is similarly important to correct facts regarding the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple entry, which the story says was spearheaded and achieved by A Vaidyanatha Iyer in 1939. The incident is narrated in the book ‘Gandhi in Tamil Nadu’, authored by renowned Gandhian, A Ramasamy. “On July 8, 1939, Vaidyanatha Iyer retained the gurukkal (brahmin priest) at the temple by telling him that minister T S S Rajan will be visiting the temple. By 8.45 pm, Iyer took along with him five adi dravidars and a person belonging to the nadar community,” the book reads.
“Afterwards, Vaidyanatha Iyer came out stating that the temple entry of harijans had taken place. On knowing this, the pattars (priests) locked the temple. The next day, a Justice Party leader and the temple’s trustee opened the door by breaking the lock. Iyer, by lying about the minister’s impending visit to the temple and bribing the pattar with a rupee, compelled him to show the dheebaradhanai (pooja of lights) and give them the viboothi (sacred ash). Only then, the pattar came to know that the persons accompanying Iyer were panchamas and one sudra, nadar,” narrates a hand bill of the Varnashrama Association.
Periyar had further commented that “The election schedule was announced. (Temple) Doors were opened. Reckoning the forthcoming election, Vaidyanatha Iyer enacted the drama of temple entry.”
In 1921, J N Ramanathan, T V Subramaniam and J S Kannapan had conducted the temple entry agitation by involving non-brahmins. They were pelted with stones and foisted with criminal cases. In 1929, the cadres of the Self-Respect Movement agitated for entry to temples at Erode. The leaders Eswaran, Karuppan and Pasupathi were charged. At Trichy, when J N Ramanathan, along with adi dravidars entered the Thayumanavar Hill Temple, he was attacked by rowdies and forced to roll down the hill. Tamil weekly magazine Kudi Arasu says, in Thiruvannamalai, J S Kannappan who agitated for temple entry was locked inside the temple. The year 1927 also saw about a thousand people assert their rights to enter the Mayuranathaswamy temple at Myladuthurai under the leadership of K A P Viswanathan.
But when the cadres of the Self-Respect Movement agitated for the temple entry of the oppressed, it was Vaidyanatha Iyer who opposed it. His stand has been documented by Thir Vi Ka, one of the pioneers of the Congress in TN, in his autobiography. “In 1922, Conference of Congress Party was convened at Tiruppur, presided over by Vasudeva Iyer. E V Ramasamy Naicker brought a resolution for the temple entry of nadar community people. The resolution aroused stormy debates and discussions. The resolution was supported by me. The resolution was opposed by Krishna Iyengar and A Vaidyanatha Iyer.”
The Dravidian movement did not stop its progressive moves with temple entry alone.It proceeded further in the social revolutionary path. Periyar’s last desire was to see the appointment of the archakas, hailing from all the castes. His wish was fulfilled by the DMK ministry, headed by M Karunanidhi through proper enactment of law.
When this was challenged, the Supreme Court abolished hereditary priesthood. Abolition of hereditary priesthood found its provision in the legislation, enacted by DMK Government, which was proposed at first by its parental organisation DK, through passing resolution in its exclusive conference. Later, the AIADMK ministry headed by J Jayalalithaa announced the proposal of establishing a Veda Agama School at Kambarasampettai near Trichy with due adherence to affirmative action of 69 per cent reservation in the admission of candidates. When DMK came to power again in 2006, the legislation was refined by establishing Veda Agama school to train archakas. In December 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Act.
Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), the parental organisation for the Dravidian political parties wrote to the CM to appoint the duly trained 206 candidates hailing from different castes as archakas. Besides, DK conducted picketing throughout TN and its cadres were arrested in multitude for the cause. Now the ball is in the court of the AIADMK.
Courtesy : The Times of India, 18th July 2016