Kerala untouchability row | Rituals ‘misunderstood’, no discrimination in temples: priests’ body
Radhakrishnan is the Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Backward Classes and Devaswoms. File photo

Kerala untouchability row | Rituals ‘misunderstood’, no discrimination in temples: priests’ body

Minister Radhakrishnan, who hails from the SC community, said two priests refused to hand over a small lamp to light the main lamp for inauguration at the shrine

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The alleged untouchability incident against Kerala Devaswom minister K Radhakrishnan was a “misunderstanding” of the rituals and no individual is discriminated against in temples, an organisation of traditional high priests in the state said on Wednesday (September 20).

The state committee of the Akhila Kerala Thanthri Samajam said priests who are performing “deva pujas” do not touch anyone, bet it Brahmin or non-Brahmin, till the same gets over.

It wondered if there was any "ill intention" in stoking a controversy out of an issue that it claimed "technically ended eight months ago" and alleged "an innocent act" was being used to create communal polarisation.

The Samajam is an association of traditional high priests who are an authority on the rites and rituals practised in most of Kerala's shrines.

In the incident in question, the “melshanti” (chief priest) - who was performing a puja - was asked in the last moment to come and light the lamp as the temple thanthri (traditional high priest) was absent.

After lighting the lamp, he went back to complete the puja and the same was misunderstood as untouchability by the minister and he expressed his displeasure on the spot, the priests' body said in a Facebook post.

The organisation said that in Kerala culture, cleanliness observed in temples was purely spiritual and claimed it was not caste-based discrimination.

It said a serious case has been lodged against the two priests, who were working in a temple under the Malabar Devaswom Board, merely on the basis of their caste.

It further claimed that ignoring the reality, some people were insulting the temple's melshanti and his community based on the minister's statement.

"Such people are trying to misinterpret an innocent act and create communal tension in the society. This can only be considered as a move for creating communal polarisation by claiming the presence of untouchability in Kerala," it said in the post.

The priests urged devotees not to get involved in such "malicious" controversies aimed at disrupting the communal harmony in the society.

CPI(M) condemns the incident, calls it shameful

On Tuesday evening (September 19), the CPI(M) state secretariat had condemned the incident and said it was shameful for Kerala.

The Left party said that at one time caste-based oppression, including untouchability, was prevalent in Kerala, but it disappeared over time due to the Renaissance, nationalist, and communist movements.

It also said social inequities that arose due to historical reasons are still prevalent and the government was working to find a solution for them.

The CPI(M) urged people to be vigilant against such practices and eradicate them.

Caste system ‘stain’ in certain minds: Minister Radhakrishnan

Radhakrishnan, who hails from the Scheduled Caste community, had on Monday (September 18) said two priests of a temple refused to hand over the small lamp they had brought to light the main lamp placed at the venue for marking the inauguration at the shrine.

Instead, they themselves lit the main lamp, and after that placed the small lamp on the ground, thinking that he would take it, he had alleged.

Though the minister didn't reveal the name of the shrine, news channels aired the visuals of the recent inauguration of "nadapandal" at a temple in Payyanur in Kannur district, in which the minister participated.

It could be seen in the visuals that the priests were not handing over the small lamp to the minister and instead placed it on the ground.

Radhakrishnan had later said caste system was a "stain" in the minds of certain people and it was not easy to remove it instantly.

The Devaswom minister had clarified he did not intend to turn the incident into a controversy and just tried to sensitise people about the social evil.

He had also reiterated that discrimination was shown only towards people and not money.

Radhakrishnan had also indicated he was not going to pursue any legal action against the discrimination he faced.

‘Shocking’, says CM Vijayan

On the other hand, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had condemned the alleged caste discrimination faced by his cabinet colleague and said follow-up action on the matter will be taken after discussing it with him.

Vijayan had termed Radhakrishnan's disclosure as “shocking”.

The Leader of Opposition in the Kerala assembly VD Satheesan too had sought stringent action against the priests who allegedly discriminated against the minister.

The Congress leader said if anyone was trying to bring back untouchability, even after 100 years of the Vaikom Satyagraha, it has to be taken very seriously, and the government has to take stringent action against the people concerned.

Terming the incident as “shocking and unfortunate”, Satheeshan had also asked why the minister hid this fact for so long.

Radhakrishnan, a member of the central committee of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), is the Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Backward Classes and Devaswoms.

He represents Chelakkara constituency of Thrissur district.

(With agency inputs)

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