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Dalit Priests in Hindu Temples in Bihar

The appointment of a dalit priest in a Hindu Temple in Bihar is celebrated with much fanfare in the Indian media. But on the ground the oppression of the dalits continues unabated. The process of the appointment of the Dalits as priests is a move in the right direction. But the number of dalit priests should be increased. And for the process to be effective, the Dalit priests should be appointed along with Brahmin priests.

The Brahmin priests and dalit priests should do the puja together and this will send out a clear signal to the devotees. Not only Dalits but all Hindus should be allowed to perform pujas. Tamil Nadu has set an example by starting courses for all Hindus for doing pujas in Hindu temples. Also the activity of the Dalit priests should not be confined within the temple walls. People should invite them to homes to conduct pujas. Finally, there should be only Pujari (priest) not Brahmin Pujari and Dalit Pujari.

In the 20th century, the social revolt against Brahmanism led to the opening of temple doors to Dalits and appointment of Dalits as priests in Bihar. But after the initial hype, the social movement lost steam.

In 1993, Phalhari Suryvashi Das, a Dalit scholar, was appointed as priest of the famous Hanuman Temple in Patna. He along with another dalit, Sanjay Rajak, has been performing the puja here since then. It would have been even better had a Brahmin or an upper caste Hindu had joined with them to do the pujas. After this much celebrated appointment, the process was not carried forward. One had to wait for more than a decade for the movement to catch steam again.

In January 2007, Jamuna Das, was appointed as a priest in famous Shiva temple at Bihta. This was followed by the appointment of Chandeshwar Paswan at the Vishwanath Mahadev Mandir in Hajipur. In June, Janardan Manjhi, was appointed as a priest at the Ram Janki temple at Paliganj in Patna District.

The appointment of the dalit priests were the result of the efforts carried out by Kishore Kunal, administrator Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts (BSBRT).

Bihar should take a cue from Tamil Nadu and should start courses for Hindu priests and the passing out priests should be appointed in temples in Bihar along with other upper caste Hindus.