My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organise; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can loose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is battle for freedom. It is the battle of reclamation of human personality”.
Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as quoted in Dr Ambedkar: Life and Mission by Dhananjay Keer, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 3rd ed. 1971, p: 351
Our society is passing through a war of perception. Even the institutions like Judiciary or Elections Commission are not spared in this war. The heinous crimes like rapes are also getting caste or communal colours. Facts and figures hardly matter here, what matters is ‘political considerations’, and politics just means electoral gains and losses. Unfortunately, the larger political process of reconstructing nation through transforming social relations with democratic means takes a back seat in this game of power equations.
Amidst all attempts to divide the society on caste, communal and regional lines through a perception war, a small but important change is taking place in the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD). For the first time in the history of the Devasthanam, people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe communities will be appointed as priests in the temples run by the board. Though such initiatives have been taken by some orgaisations at smaller levels, the TTD taking this initiative is a significant step forward towards a fundamental social transformation. This move can pave the way for a silent revolution.
The board has long-standing traditions and has been under pressure for not going ahead with this move. Still, the independent trust that oversees the operations and finances of the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple has rolled out its first batch of non-Brahmin priests for which two hundred people were selected in the pilot project and provided with a three-month-long rigorous training organised by the TTD management. Eventually five hundred priests will be appointed in various temples run by the Devasthanam. This reformist move will certainly boost the morale of other efforts in the same direction and help us fight the evils within the society.
The fundamental issue in caste-based discrimination was the denial of access to the so-called low caste people to education and temples. The evil practice of untouchability was an extension of the same. This is precisely the reason the Dr Ambedkar in 1930 itself staged a Satyagraha at Kalaram Mandir in Nashik city of Maharashtra. Unfortunately, the people who take pride in branding all Bharatiya traditions as regressive and superstitious rituals could not understand the significance of that move. On the one hand, when many social organisations are coming forward to ensure one temple, one well and one cremation ground for all castes, this reformist move by the temple trust is certainly a big step forward.
The training and practice of priesthood change the social equations of these individuals and their families with other communities. Whether one likes it or not, customs and rituals have a central role in our civilisational values with a scientific basis. The people performing various Sanskras carry a different status in the society which new priests can enjoy now. They will also possibly be the new leaders of SC and ST communities who would take the mission of Dr Ambedkar forward. Babasaheb wanted the real reconstruction of Bharat, based on the virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity and for him fraternity or sense of brotherhood was the most important factor. Unfortunately, the after 1970s the Communist appropriation of Babasaheb cultivated the animosity among various sections of society. The self-correction move within the larger Hindu society would reclaim the true legacy of Babasaheb.
While appreciating this move, we need to ensure that these priests do not become another caste or limit their activities to the SC/ST localities and communities. They should become priests for everyone, then only we can fulfil the dream of spiritual revolution.