Affirmative Action In Temple Appointments: Kerala Shows The Way


In the Caste ridden Indian Society, the role of priest has long been considered a preserve of the Brahmans. This is purely determined by birth. Only a person born in a Brahmin family is considered eligible to become a priest, if the person acquires grip over religious rituals and mantras. Any non-Brahmin and more particularly a Dalit becoming a priest were never considered possible, just on the basis of birth. Hence a reservation system existed for the Brahmins, who were given exclusive right to become a priest.

Affirmative action though was made applicable in all other spheres of public life – in education and jobs, the same were not seen in the case of priestly appointments. It is in this context, that appointment of 36 non-Brahmins and Dalits as priests in temples under the Tranvancore Devaswom Board (TDB) comes as a welcome step. This has also been described as a silent revolution.

This step, though not necessarily a radical step but definitely is a reformative step. At a time when there is an attempt at resurgence of casteist forces across the country through the rise of Hindutva forces and increase in violence against Dalits, the current development in the state of Kerala is a welcome step.

Kerala has also been at the center of targeting by the Hindutva forces, which are increasingly projecting it as an insecure place where human lives are being lost and a place which has turned into a center for production of ISIS terrorists. This contradicting the fact that Kerala is a secular and plural society, which has accommodated all religions who live peacefully with each other.

The state has set an example for the rest of the country on matters of human development with higher development scores in health, education, gender equality and through a model of health care, educational system which needs to adopt in rest of the country.

The attempt by Hindutva forces to create its base in the state based on false depiction is a continuation of growing through fake propaganda. While it tries to hide the fact of its violence against minorities, violence against Dalits, innumerable hate propaganda and communal riots created in the rest of the country, on the other hand it tries to make an issue depicting the political violence. It is projected as if only side is a victim of violence, when the truth is they are the major inflictors of violence.

Temple appointments come as an answer to how Kerala is different. The temple appointments only show that while the Hindutva forces take the route of continuation of traditional caste pattern in the rest of the country, in Kerala the priority is to end the reservation system for priesthood exclusively for Brahmins. Non-Brahmins and Dalits are equally eligible for the same. The action should go beyond. There should be a day when even when women not only get temple entry but also get appointed as temple priests in Kerala.

Rather than targeting Kerala, the Hindutva forces need to adopt lessons from Kerala. Appointment of non-brahmins and Dalits as priests in their own states can be the starting point.

Thumakunta Vasantha is a common citizen of the country. She keeps a track of current developments.

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