While having lunch with some of the Sanchalakis (coordinators) and karyakarthas (activists) of the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatana, a Dalit women’s collective in Potnal. We mentioned that while coming on the bus from Raichur station, we passed a number of elaborate temples.
Were these temples open to all? We wondered aloud.
Yes, yes, they said. Anyone can go there. The temples don’t ban anyone.
“So you can enter any temple, if you wish?” we asked pointedly. Mariamma replied that she was not very familiar with the rules of the temples. Narsamma said, “other than in our own village, we can enter any temple.”
“And in your own village?” we wanted to know.
“In our own village we can come to the steps of the temple but not inside the temple.”
“What will happen if you go inside?”
She laughed and said, “People will say, look at these people, they think they are so great they are brazenly going inside the temple.”
They said this so matter-of-factly that I felt I had to explain why we were asking particularly about this. “When we talk about Dalits being denied entry into temples, many people don’t believe that it still happens today,” I said.
“How would they know?” Narsamma asked me. “We are stopped at the steps, so we know. They are not, so they don’t see it.”
These Dalit women had begun organizing 15 years ago, a story they have told often and recently documented in a photo essay and video. They united and gained the courage to speak up at panchayat meetings, to demand rations and anganwadi services, housing loans and access to other government services. They were kind enough to share their stories again when we went to meet them.
[To be Continued]