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Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 18:07 UK

Fury over south India temple ban

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News

Dalit tribals in India
Discrimination against Dalits remains widespread

Police in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu have shot in the air to disperse a stone-throwing crowd protesting against Dalits entering a Hindu temple.

The Dalits, described as low caste Hindu untouchables, tried to enter several temples as part of their campaign in protest at the practice.

The latest incident took place near the town of Vedaranyam.

Discrimination against Dalits, who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system, is an offence in India.

Dalits, who make up nearly 20% of the Indian population, say little has changed despite the government enacting various laws banning caste-based discrimination.

For example, Dalits are still being denied entry into Hindu temples in parts of India, where a system of rigid social hierarchy exists.

The latest incident in Tamil Nadu shows that many people remain resistant to any changes to the system.

Map

Supporters of the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) have been leading protests in the state with the help of other groups.

"In some temples, upper caste Hindus do not allow Dalits even to take a bath in temple wells," says V Marimuthu, a Member of Legislative Assembly from the CPI-M, who has been leading the protests in Chettipulam village in Tamil Nadu.

The village temple has been temporarily closed and the authorities have promised to find a solution by the end of this month.

What has surprised many campaigners is that such a discriminatory practice is still prevalent in a state like Tamil Nadu, where many social reform movements vigorously fought against the Hindu caste system for decades.

But activists say Tamil Nadu is not an exception. The prejudice continues in other parts of India as well.

Raw deal

Dalits say they are expected to do the most menial jobs and their children are segregated for school meals.

Dalit women in India
Many Dalits convert to escape what they say is caste discrimination

In some rural areas, they are given separate glasses for drinking tea in local shops and have separate housing colonies.

"India's ban on caste-based discrimination will not be effective unless the government makes it a priority to enforce it," said Paul Divakar, general secretary of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights.

Every year hundreds of Dalits convert to either Buddhism or Christianity to escape the social stigma of the Hindu caste system.

But that is so deep-rooted in Indian society, activists say, it will take a long time before the Dalits can overcome widespread discrimination.



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SEE ALSO
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Mass Dalit conversions in Mumbai
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20 Dec 06 |  Crossing Continents
Furore reflects India's caste complexities
20 May 06 |  South Asia
Rise of the untouchables
20 Feb 02 |  South Asia

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