800 CPI-M workers Dalit held for ''temple entry'' stir

Madurai, Jan 31 (PTI) About 800 CPI-M volunteers and Dalitswere today arrested when they attempted to go ahead with their"temple entry" agitation in caste-sensitive Uthapuram villagein the district, violating ban orders.

Around 500 protestors, led by state CPI-M Secretary GRamakrishnan and two MLAs, were arrested here while 300 othersat Uthapuram as part of their agitation for allowing entry ofDalits into a temple, managed by caste Hindus, police said.

CPIM''s Untouchability Eradication Movement had announcedthe agitation contending that a section of Caste Hindus of thevillage was denying permission to Dalits to offer worship inthe Muthalamman temple in Uthapuram, which was in spotlightlast year after existence of a ''dividing wall'' separating theupper caste areas from Dalits colony came to the fore.

Police said the protestors were arrested as they tried totake out a procession violating regulatory orders under CrPCsection 144 banning assembly of more than four persons inUthapuram and surrounding areas. Among those arrested were twoCPI-M MLAs -- Nanmaran (Madurai) and Mahendran (Perambalur).

More than 1,000 police personnel were deployed in Uthapuramto prevent the entry of outsiders.

Earlier, talks held by District Collector C Kamaraj withthe CPI-M leaders to give up their agitation failed.

Ramakrishnan said under the Constitution, Dalits had therights to enter temples. "We have informed government aboutthe agitation one month in advance and asked it to take stepsto enable the Dalits enter the temple. But the governmentmaintained silence, forcing us to act," he told reporters.

The Dalits and the Caste Hindus at the village have been atloggerheads since 1989 when the latter claimed exclusive rightover the temple following which the dividing wall was built,forcing Dalits to take a circuitous route to reach main road.

The wall was demolished on the orders of the governmentahead of CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat''s visit to thevillage last year.

This was the second temple entry agitation organised in thevillage. Earlier on November 8, a similar protest turnedviolent and several persons were injured in policelathicharge.

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