Thirteen years after training, the Tami Nadu government has appointed the second non-Brahmin priest, P Thyagarajan, for the Vinayaga temple near Nagamalai in Madurai district of the state. His appointment came after a gap of two years since T Marichamy became the first non-Brahmin priest from Madurai.
However, 203 non-Brahmin candidates (excluding one who died), who underwent training along with Thyagarajan and Marichamy, are still waiting for the job promised to them.
“It’s been over a month since I received the appointment order, and 15 days since I joined the temple as a priest. I’m happy that I got this job. This was not a part of any government policy, but purely based on talent and marks,” said Thyagarajan, son of a BSNL employee who retired around eight years ago.
Nearly 13 years ago, a total of 206 men from different communities had joined six training schools across Tamil Nadu to undergo training for becoming priests. Training was open to all and the state government followed reservation rules even in the admission process.
“Since I wanted to pursue this spiritual profession, I took up the training and followed all procedures. I was hoping that I would get appointed right after the training, but it did not happen. I had to wait for 13 years,” Thyagarajan said.
At least Thyagarajan managed to get a job after 13 years, but the 203 other non-Brahmin priests feel that their life would be ruined as they all are nearing 40.
G Balaguru, a Dalit priest who underwent training along with Thyagarajan and now feels hopeless, claimed that the government has not shown any interest in recruiting those who were trained when the DMK was in power.
“We were all trained during the DMK regime. However, there were legal hurdles until 2015. But even after the legal hurdles were cleared, the AIADMK government was not ready to recruit the non-Brahmins who underwent training during 2007-08. Since we are all nearing 40, we would not even be qualified to apply for the post,” Balaguru claimed.
Balaguru said that he has been struggling all these years to survive.
“During the festival time, I would get ₹10,000 a month and only ₹4,000 during other times. But now, though this is a festival time, due to COVID-19, we are not getting money and we are not supposed to open the temples as well. Now, I am dependent on marriages, house warming ceremonies and other functions,” he said.
Asked if he ever faced discrimination, he said people have accepted him over a period of time, and that he has been performing poojas in all temples. He also demanded that the government follow reservation in the recruitment of priests as well.
Marichamy, the first non-Brahmin priest, also felt that the government was not serious in taking credit for appointing non-Brahmin priests, like the Kerala government did.
“If the government was serious in appointing non-Brahmins, it could do so since there are a lot of vacancies in temples under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department,” Marichamy said.
However, when asked about this, a senior official in the HR&CE department, who did not wish to be named, said that the appointments are made by the temple trust board. “But the policy remains that appointments are not based on caste, and are open to everybody,” the official said.