14th April; Suffering dalits embrace humanistic religion


Around 1,000 Dalits in Orissa’s Kendrapda district Saturday embraced Buddhism in protest against having been denied entry into a Hindu temple by upper castes and the local administration despite a court order.

About 2,000 Dalits of Keradagarh and its nearby villages in the coastal district of Kendrapda congregated at Aul village, 30 km from here, to mark the 116th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, who championed the cause of the depressed classes in the country.

Around 1,000 of them embraced Buddhism in the presence of leading state Dalit leaders as some Buddhist monks performed rituals, Ashok Mallik, Dalit leader and president of Republican Youth and Students Front (RPSF), told IANS.The Dalits embraced Buddhism saying that though they were Hindus they were not allowed to enter the 300-year-old Jagannath temple at Keradagarh village. There are around 400 Dalits in the village of 1,400.

Dalits had attempted to enter the temple several times in the past but were barred by the upper castes. There were also clashes between Dalits and upper castes. A division bench of the Orissa High Court had Dec 14 last year ruled on a public interest petition that all Hindus had the right to enter any temple irrespective of their caste.

Mallick said the Dalits were earlier allowed to worship the deity at Keradagarh through nine holes on the outer wall of the temple. After the court’s direction, the administration closed the holes and built an iron grill, barring everyone except priests, from entering the sanctum sanctorum. The Dalits are unhappy over the local administration’s move.

‘It is an insult to all Dalits and violates the court’s order,’ he said.Dalits say the local administration is not ready to help them and that is why they took the drastic step, said Mallick. A Buddhist monk Bhiku Biswabandhu from New Delhi laid the foundation stone for a Buddhist temple at Aul on the occasion, he said.

‘As per the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, a person has to file an affidavit before the district collector one month prior to changing his religion. As per the rule at least 1,000 Dalits had filed en masse petitions before the district collector on Jan 3, 2007, to embrace Buddhism,’ he said.

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