Six Dalits Recommended for Appointment as Priests in Kerala Temples

In a historic move, six Dalits are among 36 non-Brahmins, who have been recommended for appointment as priests in temples in Kerala being managed by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB).
The recommendation in this regard was made by the Kerala Devaswom Recruitment Board, a press release said.
This is for the first time six people from the scheduled caste community have been recommended for the appointment as priests. A written examination and an interview on the lines of those conducted by the Public Service Commission (PSC) was held to prepare for the appointment of part-time priests, the release said.
Devaswom minister Kadakampally Ramachandran had made it clear that there should be no room for corruption and the selection should be on the basis of merit and by following reservation norms. A recommendation had been made for the appointment of a total of 62 priests, including 26 from forward caste, it said.
The TDB manages at least 1,248 shrines, including the famous Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala.
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.
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.
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.
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.