BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - Hindu priests in Orissa are under investigation for conducting a purification ritual soon after a minister belonging to a lower caste visited a famous temple, officials said on Friday.
Minutes after Pramila Mallick, a minister in Orissa, prayed at the temple this week, Hindu priests shut the doors and threw away holy offerings, washed the floors and changed the idol’s clothes, one official said.
“Some priests opposed the minister’s entry into the interior chamber of the temple,” Upendra Mallik, a senior government official told Reuters. “We are investigating.”
In India, millions of people formerly known as “untouchables” remain oppressed at the bottom of the ancient Hindu caste system.
The minister said the purification ritual, at the Akhandalamani temple in Orissa’s Bhadrak district, could have been conducted at the behest of her political rivals.
“I have been visiting the temple for years now. Some politically motivated people want to create controversy,” she said.
In spite of India’s secular constitution banning caste discrimination, Dalits — those at the bottom of the caste system — are still commonly beaten or killed for using a well or worshipping at a temple reserved for upper castes.
More than 16 percent of India’s 1.1-billion population are Dalits, occupying the lowest rank in a 3,000-year-old Hindu caste system.