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Breaking Tradition, Kerala Temple Board Appoints Dalits as Priests

This is the first time that appointment of temple priests in Kerala is being done on the basis of reservation norms which exist in the recruitment of government staff.


Updated:October 6, 2017, 11:02 AM IST
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Breaking Tradition, Kerala Temple Board Appoints Dalits as Priests
(File photo: Reuters)

New Delhi: The Travancore Devaswom (Temple) Recruitment Board has led the way for social inclusion in Kerala as it shortlisted 36 people from Dalit and backward communities as temple priests.

The complete list of 62 candidates was released on Thursday, and all of them were chosen after interviews and necessary tests.

This is the first time that appointment of temple priests in Kerala is being done on the basis of reservation norms which exist in the recruitment of government staff.

The total reservation for SC/ST and OBC categories is 32% and those selected will now be appointed in temples under the Travancore Devaswom Board.

An official statement said that instructions had been given by Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran asking the board to comply with the merit list and reservation norms.

This significant step will now pave the way for the appointment of priests in Sabarimala, which is under the Travancore Devaswom Board. According to current rules, only Brahmins can hold the distinguished position in the temple. A petition is pending in the high court challenging the same and demanding appointment of Dalit priests.

Media reports quoted Board chairman Rajagopalan Nair as saying that said this was the first time that SC/ST and backward communities were being given reservation in the recruitment of priests.

“Earlier, we had some priests from backward communities who made it to the list through merit. The demand for reservation for Dalits has been persisting for several decades. Previous attempts to meet the demand had faced stiff resistance from certain quarters. But now we have made it a reality,’’ Nair said. He added that in future, priests of other Devaswom boards, especially those in Cochin and Malabar, will be appointed in the same manner.

The decision comes five years after the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement, said that eligibility of priesthood should be the knowledge of rites and traditions, not the case. The court was hearing a petition filed by Rakesh KS, who was not allowed to take up the post of the priest at the Neerikodu Siva Temple in Ernakulam as he was an Ezhava.

Caste Over Serving The Gods

The move by Travancore Devaswom Board comes in the wake of cases of temple priests fighting the management over case discrimination, despite the apex court’s order.

Earlier this year in June, the Travancore Devaswom Board had cancelled the appointment of a non-Brahmin priest in Chettikulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha. Sudhikumar, belonging to the Ezhava community was appointed as keezhshanti (junior priest) in June, an appointment which was opposed by the Hindu Matha Convention saying his appointment would “anger the Goddess.”

Sudhikumar challenged the cancellation of his appointment at the Kerala State Human Rights Commission. The Devaswom Board, last week, re-appointed him as keezhshanti.

As soon as word spread about his re-appointment, Sudhikumar was allegedly threatened by the chief priest of Pathiyooor Devi Temple.

Sudhikumar’s case is not the only one. A non-Brahmin priest was, in August, allegedly thrown out from a temple in Kottayam district when he went there with his appointment order citing local temple customs.

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| Edited by: Puja Menon
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