COIMBATORE, INDIA, October 1, 2012 (India Times): It was a defining moment for Coimbatore's dalits when several of them entered the 120-year-old Mariamman temple at Kalapatti for the first time on Sunday with the support of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) and Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM) activists.
Located three miles away from Coimbatore airport, the temple had been out of bounds for dalits until now. Around 2,000 families from the Arunthathiyar community live in this area. More than 1,500 dalits and an equal number of CPM activists gathered at Kalapatti Bazaar at 11am and took out a huge procession before entering the temple premises. Police provided security to the dalits and party workers. There was no resistance from upper caste Hindus and the temple priest also cooperated with the protesters. He distributed sacred ash to all those gathered, breaking the shackles on customs that were more than a century old.
Coimbatore MP P. R. Natarajan and TNUEF president P. Sambath, who led the dalits' march to the sanctum sanctorum, said that discrimination against any community would not be allowed in the temple any more. "The Mariamman temple has been under the administrative control of the department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) since 1971. The HR&CE Act empowers any community to enter and worship, but untouchability prevailed despite the law." he said.
TNUEF had staged many demonstrations in the city seeking government intervention in the issue. As the authorities failed to act, they decided to resolve the issue themselves. "It is a matter of shame for the state that untouchability existed at a temple situated in an urban area. It is not unusual to find such discrimination in remote interiors," said Sambath.