Updated: October 02, 2014 06:31 PM GMT
A century-old temple in the southern Indian state of Karnataka has appointed two lower caste Dalit women as Hindu priests.
Laxmi, 65, and Chandravathi, 46, both widows who belong to the dalit (former untouchables) community, were appointed priests of Kudroli Gokarnanatheshwara Temple in Mangalore, on Sept 29.
"The two women have been appointed after training by the head priest of the temple. They have started conducting prayers in the temple," Hari Krishna Bantval, a member of the development committee of the temple, told ucanews.com.
While this was not the first time the temple had inducted women as priests, it was believed to be the first time dalit women were consecrated, temple officials said.
Members of the dalit community in the past were prohibited from sharing space with people of higher castes, particularly in temples. The community members are generally associated with doing menial jobs such as manual scavenging, cleaning streets and sewers and are considered impure. While laws have been put in place to protect their rights, dalits are still discriminated against in many segments of Indian society, particularly in rural areas.
The two women belong to the Billawa Community, traditionally suppressed by upper castes who regard them as untouchables.
Bantval said that the Kudroli Gokarnanatheshwara Temple does not believe in the caste system. "This is a step toward social transformation," he said.
People from all communities – Hindus, Muslims and Christians – come to pray at the temple, which was founded in 1912 by social reformer Narayana Guru, Bantval said.