PUNAHA POKHRI (UTTARAKHAND): Thousands of Dalits led by outgoing BJP Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay and local activist Daulat Kunwar defied a centuries-old tradition on Friday and stormed a temple where their entry was earlier prohibited.
However, soon after the community asserted their right to equal worship at the Silgur devta temple in Chakrata, around 160 km from Dehradun, violence broke out as upper caste members started pelting stones them with stones. Tarun Vijay sustained deep injuries on his head and ear and was rushed to the nearby military hospital for treatment.
According to eyewitnesses, trouble started when the MP and his group, who were allowed entry into the temple, touched the ‘dev doli’ which according to local belief “should not be touched by those belonging to a lower caste”. A villager told TOI, “The touch of Dalits has tarnished the sanctity of our festive day and our temple has become unholy now.”
However, word soon spread about the entry into the temple by the Dalits and a large crowd of people started gathering at the spot. Within an hour or so, many hundreds had converged, seething with rage. As Vijay and his group started coming out of the temple, the crowd became increasingly aggressive and started yelling slogans against the MP and began pelting stones at them. A couple of stones hit Vijay and his ear and head started bleeding profusely. He also fell on the ground.
The angry mob attacked the MP’s car and pushed it down a nearby gorge. The crowd also targeted two police jeeps standing nearby. Maintaining that the incident was unfortunate, JL Sharma, patwari of Barontha area under which Pokhri village falls, said, “We never expected that violence would break out like this. It was around 11 in the morning that we came to know that the MP would be coming to the area. We checked with other villagers and they were okay with the MP and his group entering the temple. It seems that the entire episode had been executed by some villagers not belonging here.”
Earlier, while speaking to TOI, Vijay had said, “It is a very shameful thing that we talk about ‘developing India’ yet we are still not able to overcome caste discrimination. God is one for all, so how can a Hindu stop another Hindu from entering a temple?” There are more than 340 temples in the Jaunsar-Bawar region of Uttarakhand where Dalits have been reportedly denied entry for many generations. Recently, too, the issue had gained traction when a campaign was initiated by the Dalit community to ensure that they also got a right to worship in the temples where their entry had been banned for ages.
Expressing regret at the incident, chief minister Harish Rawat said that he had ordered the Garhwal commissioner to probe the attack.