The Hindu : Today's Paper News : Dalit priest enters temple in Mandya village, assaulted Waking up in a hospital ward with a throbbing pain in his groin and no sensation in his legs, 30-year-old Hemmanahalli Appaji Kemparaju did not remember anything until his relatives told him that he was beaten unconscious by â€˜upper caste' persons on March 15 during the annual jatre (festival) of the 400-year-old Chowdeshwari temple in Hemmanahalli near Maddur. It was on this day that Kemparaju, who is from a family of Dalit priests, decided to challenge a social convention that is as old as the temple. Kemparaju broke ranks with other Dalits and their priests, who were standing outside, and made a dash for the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. â€œMy relatives told me that I had been booked by the police for obstructing â€˜caste' Hindus,â€ said Mr. Kemparaju from his hospital bed. â€œIn my office people call me â€˜Sir', but in my village I cannot even enter the village temple. I decided to do something about it,â€ said Mr. Kemparaju, who is a manager in a courier company in Bangalore, just 70 km away. â€œThe moment he entered the temple, he was surrounded by the devotees inside,â€ says Hemmanahalli Appaji Ravi (26), Mr. Kemparaju's brother, an employee in a leading public sector research facility in Bangalore. â€œThey beat him unconscious and threw his body outside. None of us had the courage to go inside and save him. The police were there but did nothing,â€ he said. Long planned The attempt to enter the temple had been long planned. â€œDespite opposition from our elders, we youngsters decided we must take on the â€˜caste' Hindus by entering the temple,â€ he said. Police role criticised Deputy Superintendent of Police M.K. Uthappa told The Hindu that one person was arrested on March 17 for the attack on Mr. Kemparaju, but was released on bail within a few days. â€œThe other accused are absconding.â€ Chandrashekar Dikshit, the temple's head priest, and the prime accused in the case, refused to comment when The Hindu sought to interview him at his house next to the temple. Dalits in the village believe that the police are shielding the accused. â€œThe accused and the local Sub-Inspector would travel on the same motorbike in public even as the official position was that the accused were absconding,â€ alleged Hemmanahalli Shankar, a practising lawyer in the village, and a Dalit. â€œWe had submitted a memorandum to the tahsildar and the Deputy Superintendent of Police seeking police protection on March 5 itself,â€ said S. Dinakar, a Dalit priest. Dalit priests There are six families of Dalit priests in the village. During the jatre these priests wear the â€˜Janiwara' (sacred thread). A week before the festival they go through a â€œpurificationâ€ ritual, and for the next seven days take out a daily procession in the village with ceremonial drumming. It is they who declare the festival open, although they are only allowed to stand at a distance from the temple. Ownership dispute According to Mandya district Superintendent of Police Kaushalendra Kumar, the Chowdeshwari temple is at the centre of an ownership dispute between two rival groups of â€˜caste' Hindus. â€œOne group instigated the Dalits to create trouble on the day of the festival,â€ he said. However, he confirmed that a delegation of Dalit leaders did meet him to seek protection ahead of the festival. â€œKemparaju has been booked for scalding the Sub-Inspector with a burning torch,â€ he said. The caste divide runs deep. To this day, members of the 130 Dalit families in this village face a range of discriminatory caste practices from the â€˜upper castes'. For example, they must travel to the nearest town for a haircut because the local barber will not oblige them, and they must carry their own glasses and plates if they wish to eat in the local restaurants. In the past 15 years Dalits in Hemmanahalli have been getting access to education, and there are at least 100 Dalit graduates. â€œThe â€˜caste' Hindus resent this, and the fact that we do not work in their fields any longer. They were waiting for a chance to teach us a lesson,â€ said Mr. Dinakar. Until unless such atrocities does not stop in India, Missionaries will take advantage and conversion will happen.