From Debasis Tripathy in Kendrapada
In this time of vote-bank politics, a number of political parties have been championing the cause of the so-called emancipation of backward communities. They purchase publicity and political mileage for themselves in the name of empowerment of Dalits, which has become the order of the day. But the question arises: Are they really serious and vigilant towards the sorrows and sufferings of the Dalits? In the background of a recent incident, this question deserves a prudent and transparent answer.
Recently, a TV channel in Orissa brought out a news that Sakuntala Muduli (18), a Harijan girl of village Keradagada under Rajnagar Police Station, Kendrapada District, was assaulted by some upper-caste Hindus and was also fined with Rs. 1001. Not only this, the TV report also said she was detained and forcefully paraded nude along the village road for her alleged offence of entering into a local temple of Lord Jagannath. After the TV report, almost all the local, national and even international media became active using it as a hot cake. But the real fact remains far away from them.
On November 15, on the eve of Kartika Poornima, some Harijan women went to have the darshan of Lord Jagannath in the local temple of Keradagada village. This temple is a mediaeval monument and solely owned and managed by the Bhanja Deo Dynasty of Kanika. As per the local custom and the traditional instruction of royal family, these lower-caste persons are restricted to get into the temple. But due to rush, one of them managed to get into the temple and the temple guards resisted her and warned her not to do so, breaking the old traditions. After the exchange of some views and counter-views, the matter was settled and everything became normal. ?That day, one of our girls mistakenly attempted to enter into the temple crossing the lion gate. But the pujaris denied her entry. As we have never done such a thing earlier, we settled the issue through negotiation,? said Basanti Tarai, one of the victims of the incident.
But, a political drama unfolded after that. One Akshya Mallick, the local leader of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), came to the village and motivated the Harijan families to raise the issue as religious exploitation and social discrimination. But the innocent locals did not go with him and he himself filed a petition before the District Magistrate of Kendrapada on December 3, alleging that 17 Dalit women were assaulted and canned by upper-caste Hindus while entering into the temple. The petition also said the lower-caste women were gheraoed and a sum of rupees 1001 was forcibly collected as penalty from them, which was used for the subsequent purification of temple. According to the source of the district office, the Executive Magistrate of Rajnagar has been deputed to enquire into the matter.
On the other hand, local leaders, common folks, persons of temple management and police personnel strictly deny the testimony of the allegations. Madhusudan Mahari, the guardian of Harijan women, admits the incident but strongly denies fine collection, assault and other alleged oppressive measures by upper-caste people. ?Such an incident took place on that day. Some of our women mistakenly crossed the lion gate of the temple. But we resolved the matter peacefully and there was no fine collection and assault. I was present there. All the rubbish is being published, which is intended to defame our women,? he said. He also says that they are the sevaks of the deity. They play drums and wash the clothes of the Lord, for which they are donated tax-free lands. ?I am 60 years old now. Till now I have never gone to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. We serve the God remaining out of the temple. This temple belongs to our King Sailendra Narayan Bhanjadeo. We undertake darshan of the Lord from outside,? adds Shri Mahari.
The chief priest of the temple Madan Mohan Rath and priest Harekrishna Panda recall that the similar incidents occurred in 2002, 2003 and 2004 by the members of a particular party. ?The local Harijans are really innocent. But they are being motivated and induced to do so,? said Shri Panda. The chief priest admits the incident but strongly denies the alleged incident of assault, collection of fine and so on. ?This is a sin and the Lord will not tolerate this,? he adds. Sadhu Sethi (One of the Harijan sevak of the temple) also supports him. Sadhu has never tried to get into the temple, though he has been serving the temple for the last 40 years.
Above all, the victim women, Gita Mallick, Sabitri Jena, Puspa Sethi and Khani Dei refused that they were assaulted and penalised on that day. When contacted, Srutikanta Kanungo, officer in-charge of Rajnagar Police Station said: ?We have not received any complaint regarding the incident. Some political persons are aggravating the issue.? However, the credit goes to BSP for the attempt of dividing the Hindu society on baseless issues.