Dalit students barred from Saraswati puja in Orissa school


Bhubaneswar : Villagers and teachers did not allow a group of Dalit students to offer prayers to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, in a school in Orissa’s Kendrapada district, officials said Tuesday.

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The matter came to light after authorities begun a probe Tuesday on the basis of the written complaints by the students and their parents to the local police Monday.

Like most of the schools in the state, students and teachers Jan 31 celebrated the annual Saraswati puja at Sidha Marichapali Nodal Upper Primary School at Marichapali village in Kendrapada district, some 100 km from the state capital.

Although all students belonging to upper castes were allowed to offer prayers, as many as 24 dalit students of the school, including six girls, were prevented from participating.

“The teachers of the school and some villagers prevented the dalit students from offering coconuts to the deity, saying that they are dalit and belong to Sheduled Castes,” block development officer (BDO) Narayan Nayak told IANS by phone.

The village has a population of about 500, and about 200 of them are dalits. However, dalit students are not allowed to offer coconuts in the school prayers on the days of Ganesh puja and Saraswati puja since past several years, he said.

“The villagers say they prevented the children because they violated the practice and came with coconuts. The children and their parents have lodged a complaint. We are investigating into the matter,” Nayak said.

Despite India’s constitution outlawing caste discrimination, dalits, comprising 16 percent of the country’s 1.1 billion populations, however, often face mistreatment from upper caste people in many parts of the country.

Last month, priests in a temple in Orissa’s Bhadrak district threw away holy offerings and washed floors after Women and Child Welfare Minister Pramila Mallick, a dalit, visited the temple’s sanctum sanctorum.

The priests said they performed the rituals because Mallik’s entry into the temple made the premises “impure”.