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Dalits bathe with priests at Kumbh Mela

Ancient caste taboo broken at Hindu festival

Dalits bathe with priests at Kumbh Mela
Dalits bathed and ate with Hindu priests in Allahabad reporter, Bhopal

February 8, 2013

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About 100 Dalit scavengers became the first members of India’s lowest caste to take a holy bath alongside higher caste priests in the river Ganges on Thursday during the ongoing holy Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in the northern city of Allahabad.

The ‘untouchables’ were allowed to stay inside camps meant for ascetics and followers of Hindu sects and dined with Hindu religious leader Swami Narendra Giri, one of hundreds of high-caste religious figures there, said a participant who declined to be named.

“I am blessed and cleansed,” said Rajni Nanda, one of the low-caste participants.

Scavengers are responsible for removing human waste from dry toilets at the houses of higher-caste citizens and are shunned by many Indians.

The whole event was “like a rebirth when top Hindu priests of the country gladly accepted us as part of Hindu society,” said Guddi Athwal, a Dalit who also attended.

Kumbh Mela, which is held every three years rotating among four cities – Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain - is the holiest Hindu pilgrimage in India with 100 million people expected to attend and take a bath to wash away their sins over the 56-day period before it ends on March 10.

But Dalits are, in practice, not allowed near temples and other holy sites, despite reform efforts to instill greater equality in India.

Bindeshwar Pathak, the social worker who arranged for the Dalits to take part, said they should not be kept locked out of India’s biggest festival.

“The reason behind such an event is social uplift and a message to the people that the... scavengers are part of society and not untouchables,” he said.

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