Upper Caste Hindus Threaten Immolation to Keep "Untouchables" Out of Temple

A temple entry issue raged in the village of Melpathi in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where some members of upper-caste Hindus blocked a local temple and even threatened to immolate themselves to stop Dalits from entering.

The incident reignited tensions between groups in Melpathi and led to the deployment of law enforcement personnel to prevent unforeseen events.

The issue has been raging in the village since last April when members of the Adi Dravidar or Paraiyar community, a Scheduled Caste (SC) community, were prohibited from entering the Sri Dharmaraja Draupathi Amman temple. A case was registered after members of this community protested against this action. However, villagers noted that nothing else was done after registering the case.

A few villagers submitted a petition to the collector’s office on May 17th, asking them to take immediate action to be allowed to enter the temple and arrest those responsible for denying them entry during last month's festival.

I have informed them (the Adi Dravidar community) that they will be allowed into the temple. The officials have briefed them as well. I request the other residents of the village to set aside these differences inside the temple, everyone should be treated equally.” K Ponmudy, Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Higher Education, said on May 17th regarding the issue. “For political reasons, a few people are carrying out these things, and people should not fall for this.

The minister also said that the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) department administers the Sri Dharmaraja Draupathi Amman temple, and it was informed that everyone should be allowed to enter the temple.

However, not everyone in the village was pleased with Ponmundy’s decision. Upper-caste Hindus in Melpathi condemned his statement and staged a dharna, or an act of fasting at the door of an offender until one’s demands are met, in front of the temple, hurling their ration cards and voter IDs in protest.

The upper caste protesters insisted that they would not allow Dalits and lower castes to enter the temple, despite police intervention. Some protesters even threatened to burn themselves in protest during arguments with the authorities.

After authorities, including the tahsildar (tax collection officer) and revenue divisional officer, staged multiple peace talks with the protesters, the crowds stopped and were eventually dispersed.

Residents of Melpathi were also informed that the temple is under the administration of the HR & CE department, with a notice on this being issued as well. Villupuram District Collector C. Palani said the state government will take the necessary steps to ensure everyone can access the temple.

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