Monday, November 19, 2012

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s articles mainly deal with the death of the controversial Indian politician, Bal Thackery. They are from a number of papers (“Sydney Morning Herald”, “The Age”, “Telegraph” (UK) & “The Los Angeles Times”).


They are then followed by two articles dealing with “untouchables”.


The last article (link only) is from “The Daily Mail” (UK) & talks about a festival involving cows trampling over you (this is India after all).


Indian arrested for Facebook comment over politician's death

Date: November 20, 2012 - 11:40AM

Tense city ... Shiv Sena supporters gather outside Bal Thackeray's house on Saturday after his death. Photo: Reuters

Mumbai: Indian police have arrested a woman for criticising on Facebook the total shutdown of Mumbai after the death of politician Bal Thackeray, as well as a friend who "liked" the comment.

The pair, both aged 21, were arrested for "hurting religious sentiments" and bailed on Monday afternoon by a court in the town of Palghar, north of Mumbai, Police Inspector Shrikant Pingle said.

"The police had sought 14 days' judicial custody for the two girls," he said.

The women were arrested on Sunday, when a huge funeral procession attended by hundreds of thousands was held in Mumbai for Thackeray, the divisive founder of the right-wing Shiv Sena party.

Reports said a Shiv Sena mob, angered by the woman's Facebook post, vandalised a clinic of her uncle's. Pingle said they were probing the alleged attack by "some unknown people" but were yet to detain anyone.

"We will investigate the matter, find them and arrest them," he said.

Thackeray's death on Saturday afternoon brought Mumbai to a virtual standstill for the weekend, with businesses shutting and taxis going off the roads, amid fears of violence by Thackeray's supporters.

While his followers mourned, others were angered at the hold Shiv Sena exerted over India's financial capital. The woman arrested for her Facebook post was among many who aired opinions on social networking sites.

"Her comment said people like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a 'bandh' (city shutdown) for that," Police Inspector Uttam Sonawane told the Mumbai Mirror.

The arrests, which sparked outrage online, followed a police complaint lodged by a local Shiv Sena leader, according to the PTI news agency.

Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju said the accusations against the women were "absurd", and he called for immediate action against the police involved in the case.

"We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship," he said in a letter, posted on his blog, to the chief minister of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital.
Sandeep Dikshit, spokesman for India's ruling Congress party, described the case as "unfortunate".

Despite widespread concerns, there were no reports of unrest in Mumbai on the day of the funeral of Thackeray, one of India's most polarising party leaders who was widely accused of stoking ethnic and religious violence.

Agence France-Presse

This article was found at:


Mumbai on high alert after death of divisive politician

Date: November 19, 2012

Mark Magnier New Delhi

MUMBAI was on high alert after the death on Saturday of the controversial and divisive politician Bal Thackeray. The founder of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena Party died of a heart attack after several days in intensive care, aged 86.

Some 48,000 police were put on high alert and railway security tightened on fears of violence, amid reports that taxi and rickshaw drivers were refusing to travel near Shiv Sena strongholds, inconveniencing travellers trying to get to Mumbai Airport.
Police warned citizens to stay indoors except in emergencies.

Among Thackeray's more controversial beliefs were his admiration for Adolf Hitler's leadership skills and his opposition to Valentine's Day, which he viewed as a celebration of wantonness and anti-Indian values.

Thackeray started his career as a cartoonist before founding Shiv Sena in 1966.

His agenda often translated into extreme pro-Hindu, anti-migrant policies that led Shiv Sena over the years to mount numerous campaigns against Muslims and those flocking to Mumbai from other parts of India in search of jobs and a better life. Shiv Sena repeatedly threatened to shut down Bollywood productions if they didn't hire more locals.

Analysts said his attacks on ''outsiders'' and minorities had a certain resonance among urban middle-class Mumbai voters even as he imprinted a negative legacy on one of the world's great cities. ''He was a bundle of extreme, even brazen contradictions,'' said Dileep Padgaonkar, a consulting editor with the Times of India. ''He destroyed the cosmopolitan ethos of Mumbai.''

While some residents bridled at Thackeray's extreme positions, most shied away from confronting him given his political clout and ability to marshal party mobs on short notice for rabble-rousing missions. The Washington Post once described him as ''the man who rules Bombay the way Al Capone ruled Chicago - through fear and intimidation''.

As word of his death spread on Saturday, tributes poured in from politicians, film stars and celebrities, while analysts on every TV network parsed his often-divisive impact on recent Indian history.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, cancelled his dinner on Saturday, crediting Thackeray in a Twitter message for building Shiv Sena ''into a formidable force in the state politics with his strong leadership''. Members of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, aligned with Shiv Sena, called him a ''son of the soil'' and ''uncompromising in patriotism''.

After Hindu-Muslim riots in late 1993 in which an estimated 900 people were killed, Thackeray openly called for attacks on Muslims. He was later quoted as saying Muslims are ''spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer''.


This article was found at:


Thousands pay respect to Bal Thackeray


Hundreds of thousands of people thronged the streets of Mumbai to witness the funeral procession of Bal Thackeray, chief of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party and one of India's most divisive politicians.


Supporters of the Shiv Sena party carry a portrait of right-wing Hindu nationalist politician Bal Thackeray before his funeral procession in Mumbai Photo: REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

12:20PM GMT 18 Nov 2012

Thackeray, who called his followers "Hindu warriors" and was widely accused of stoking ethnic and religious violence, died aged 86 on Saturday, triggering a virtual shutdown of the city.

Mourners lined the route to catch a final glimpse of Thackeray, still wearing his trademark sunglasses, as his body was driven slowly through the heaving masses.

Authorities placed a massive police force on the streets in a bid to avert trouble following the death of the politician whose party has a reputation for intimidation and unrest.

Thackeray was accused by an official probe of inciting violence against Muslims in riots that claimed more than 1,000 lives in Mumbai in the 1990s, although he was never charged.

He won devotion from his Hindu working-class followers, who showered the hearse with flowers as it travelled to central Shivaji Park, where it arrived several hours late because of the vast turnout.

"I will be privileged to pay respects to my god. We have lost our godfather," Ganesh Sawant, an office assistant in the city, told AFP.

Jyotsna Parab, a housewife, said her life would "never be the same" as she wiped away tears.

"I cannot accept that he is no more. This was a man whose entire world revolved around protecting our rights," she said.

Commercial establishments across Mumbai were expected to remain closed until after Thackeray's cremation in the evening, with some owners saying they feared they could be targeted by Shiv Sena supporters if they did not shut.

Newspapers dedicated pages of coverage to the man who dominated the city's politics for decades.

"Mumbai loses its boss," ran the headline of the Mumbai Mirror, below a picture of an imposing, cigar-smoking Thackeray.

"Many hated him. Many feared him. Many loved him for what he stood for," said a tribute in the Mid Day newspaper.

Thackeray vociferously sought to defend the rights of local Marathi-speaking "sons of the soil" against "outsiders" – whether from other parts of India or Bangladesh – who came to work in Mumbai, capital of Maharashtra state.

Despite Thackeray's polarising career, tributes poured in for the politician who gave Bombay the new name of Mumbai in a bid to rid the city of its British colonial past and emphasise its Marathi roots.

"He was a consummate communicator whose stature in the politics of Maharashtra was unique," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

As his cortege progressed through Mumbai, police advised residents to travel only in emergencies.

Taxis stayed off the roads and shops and restaurants remained closed since news of his death spread across the city.

Several buses were damaged on Saturday evening, but there was no widespread unrest.
While Thackeray was a hero to many working-class Hindus, his politics and the hold that his party exerts over India's financial capital angered many others.

"Why is Shiv Sena holding the city to ransom. Is that the only way?" asked leading film director Anurag Kashyap on Twitter.

Thackeray was never a lawmaker – preferring to dominate from behind the scenes – but his party held power for five years from 1994 at state level and is still in the coalition ruling Mumbai's governing civic body.

Thackeray had been in frail health for months, with a trail of Bollywood stars visiting him in his final days.

He appeared to followers by video link in October asking them to "take care" of his son Uddhav, the executive president of Shiv Sena, whose political fortunes have ebbed since Thackeray's nephew Raj set up a rival party.

Source: AFP


Politician Balasaheb Thackeray dies in India; Mumbai on alert

Indian policemen and women stand guard outside Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's residence following his death today after being critically ill from last few days. Thousands of anxious supporters gathered outside Thackeray's house, and more than 1500 policemen were deployed in the area to maintain the peace. (EPA / November 17, 2012)

By Mark Magnier
November 17, 2012, 8:25 a.m.

NEW DELHI — Mumbai was on high alert after Balasaheb Thackeray, a controversial and often divisive politician, died Saturday at 86 of a heart attack after several days in intensive care.

Some 48,000 police were put on high alert and railway security tightened on fears of violence, amid reports that taxi and rickshaw drivers were refusing to travel near Shiv Sena strongholds, inconveniencing travelers trying to get to the Mumbai airport. As word of his deteriorating condition spread in recent days linked to problems with his lungs and pancreas, theaters closed, film crews canceled shoots and musicians postponed concerts.

"Citizens should only step out of houses only if there is an emergency,” police warned.

“An appeal is made to people to maintain calm and peace."

Among Thackeray’s more controversial beliefs included his admiration for Adolph Hitler’s leadership skills and opposition to Valentine’s Day, which he viewed as a celebration of wantonness and anti-Indian values.  

The conservative Hindu nationalist started his career as a cartoonist before founding in 1966 the Shiv Sena political party focused on Maharashtra, the state in which Mumbai is located.

In practice, his “Maharashtra First” agenda often translated into extreme pro-Hindu, anti-migrant policies that saw Shiv Sena over the years mount numerous campaigns against Muslims and those flocking to Mumbai from other parts of India in search of jobs and a better life.

Shiv Sena’s repeated threats to shut down Bollywood productions if they didn’t hire more locals were often seen by his many critics as little more than a shakedown.

Analysts said his attacks on "outsiders" and minorities had a certain resonance among urban middle-class Mumbai voters even as he imprinted a negative legacy on one of the world’s great cities. “He was a bundle of extreme, even brazen contradictions,” said Dileep Padgaonkar, a consulting editor with the Times of India newspaper. “He destroyed the cosmopolitan ethos of Mumbai.”

While more open-minded residents of Mumbai frequently bridled at Thackeray’s extreme positions, most shied away from confronting him given his political clout and ability to marshal party mobs on short notice for rabble-rousing missions. The Washington Post once described him as “the man who rules Bombay the way Al Capone ruled Chicago — through fear and intimidation.”

As word of his death spread Saturday, tributes poured in from politicians, film stars and celebrities, even as analysts on every TV network parsed his often-divisive impact on recent Indian history.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh canceled his dinner Saturday, crediting Thackeray in a Twitter message for building Shiv Sena “into a formidable force in the State politics with his strong leadership." And members of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party aligned with Shiv Sena called him a "son of the soil,” “uncompromising in patriotism” and the "king of commitments."

Shekhar Gupta, editor in chief of the Indian Express newspaper, sees him as a complex, fascinating character, one of a couple dozen regional figures who provide a certain stability to Indian politics by drawing off voter ire and frustration in the absence of strong national leadership.

At one point Gupta recalls calling Thackeray a "mafioso" several years ago and being surprised when Thackeray invited him to his house for dinner. "If I was truly a mafioso, I wouldn’t be meeting you like this,” Thackeray told him. And as the conversation turned to wine, Thackeray joked that he preferred white wine, even though red was better for his heart, which fit, since many people accused him of being heartless.

“He was one of the great originals of Indian politics,” said Gupta. “He helped define the Bombay we see today, for better or worse,” referring to the city by its former name.

Following Mumbai Hindu-Muslim riots in late 1993 that saw an estimated 900 people killed — sparked in part by Hindu extremists' demolition of a mosque hundreds of miles away in Ayodhya — Thackeray called openly for attacks on Muslims in an editorial. He was not against all Muslims, he added, only those who live in India and don’t follow the law. “I consider such people traitors," he said. He was later quoted saying Muslims are “spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer."

Thackeray was a magnet for controversy, particularly comments he made several years ago praising Hitler’s oratorical and leadership skills and calling for a benevolent dictator in India.

As a predictable firestorm raged, he clarified his position: “The killing of Jews was wrong,” he said in early 2007, according to local media reports. “But the good part about Hitler was that he was an artist. He was a daredevil. He had good qualities and bad. I may also have good qualities and bad ones."

Thackeray opposed India-Pakistan cricket matches and other efforts at reconciliation between the two wary nuclear neighbors, writing in 2008 that Islamic terrorism was growing and Hindu terrorism was the only way to counter it. “We need suicide bomb squads to protect India and Hindus," he added.

To near universal condemnation, he attacked tennis star Sania Mirza in 2010 for marrying a Pakistani cricket star, arguing that she should choose someone from her own country if she wanted to play for the national team. Her fame was less about her on-court abilities than her "tight clothes, fashion and love affairs,” he added. “Had her heart been Indian, it wouldn't have married a Pakistani."

It remains to be seen what form Shiv Sena and Thackeray’s ideas take after his death, analysts said, particularly given the tussle underway between his son and his nephew for control of the voting bloc he built. “That will be interesting to watch,” said Sidharth Bhatia, a senior journalist based in Mumbai. “Parties identified with one person always have this problem.”

Tanvi Sharma in the New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.




Widows, India's other 'untouchables'


Nearly 15,000 have settled in the city of Vrindavan, filling charity-run ashrams. Many have come to escape abuse by in-laws. Others were simply banished.

By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times
11:25 PM PDT, October 15, 2012

Chameli, 70, is a resident of Mahila Ashray Sadan ashram and one of an estimated 15,000 widows living in the Vrindavan area, known as India's City of Widows. (Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times / October 15, 2012)

VRINDAVAN, India — Lalita Goswami was married only a few years when her husband, a Hindu priest who beat her and abused drugs, died of an apparent overdose. She was left with three young children.

Still, she said, being married was better than being a widow.

That ordeal has lasted for decades. After her husband died, the brother-in-law who took her in kicked her out, forcing her back to her parents' home in Kolkata. Her brother saw her as a financial burden and neighbors ostracized her. In a bid to keep peace, her mother exiled her and her two youngest children to Vrindavan in central India, a sacred town known as the City of Widows.

Today, nearly 15,000 widows live in Vrindavan, where the Hindu god Krishna is said to have grown up. Although it is believed they were first drawn for religious reasons centuries ago, many widows now come to this city of 4,000 temples to escape abuse in their home villages — or are banished by their husbands' families so they won't inherit property.

Goswami spends her time at Mahila Ashray Sadan, one of several widow ashrams supported by charities here.

"What else could I do?" said Goswami, a solicitous woman who strokes visitors' faces and touches their feet in a traditional sign of respect. She lives in a 30-bed dormitory laced with the widows' meager possessions.

Goswami recently lost her appetite and suffers from chronic diarrhea and nausea. The ashram gives her one meal a day and a $6-a-month allowance. Healthcare is scarce.

"I'm 70, maybe 80," she said. "All I know is, my children have children."

For centuries, Indian widows would throw themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres, reflecting the view that they were of little social worth without their protector and breadwinner. Although that practice, known as sati, has been outlawed, widows are still traditionally considered inauspicious, particularly in Bengali culture, their presence at weddings and festivals shunned and even their shadows seen as bad luck.

Until a few decades ago, widows were often accused of causing their husbands' deaths — the mother-in-law in older Hindi films would accuse the new widow of "eating her son" alive. Even now, "unlucky" widows are scorned for remarrying, views reformers attribute more to India's male-dominated society than religious tenets.

"Widows are treated like untouchables," said Bindeshwar Pathak, head of the civic group Sulabh International. "Indian tradition is very full of heritage and knowledge, but some of our traditions are beyond humanity."

In August, an outraged Supreme Court ordered government and civic agencies to improve the lives of women in Vrindavan after local media reported abandoned corpses being put in sacks and tossed into the river, a charge officials deny. The government of West Bengal state, where most widows who live here come from, has since promised to provide them with government housing and a stipend exceeding what they'd receive in Vrindavan, which is in Uttar Pradesh state.

But social workers, pointing to similar past initiatives, say follow-through is often lacking.

Nor is it clear that the widows want to leave Vrindavan, said Yashoda Verma, who manages the 160-resident Mahila ashram.

According to centuries-old Hindu laws, a widow hoping to obtain enlightenment should renounce luxuries and showy clothes, pray, eat a simple vegetarian diet (no onions, garlic or other "heating" foods that inflame sexual passions) and devote herself to her husband's memory.

At least, that's the idea.

"Very rarely do you see people go to Vrindavan because they're devoted to the cause," said Rosinka Chaudhuri, a fellow at the Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.

"Sometimes it's blackmail, or if you're not loved enough, you take yourself up. But the numbers are staggering."

Guddi, a resident in her 70s with a square face and a nose ring, said she came to Vrindavan after being abused by her daughter-in-law, a common complaint.

"What's the point if they feed me two rotis [flatbread] but beat me with a shoe?" said Guddi, who uses one name. "If I'd been born a man, life would've been better. There isn't much respect for women in India."

But social and generational changes are also evident. Even as prejudices linger in rural areas, a growing number of widows in urban areas or those from less-restrictive families remarry — sometimes to a brother-in-law — maintain careers and share the inheritance.

All widows over 60 are eligible for a $16 monthly government pension and food allowance. But up to 80% are illiterate and unable to navigate India's labyrinthine bureaucracy. Even those who do succeed complain that inefficiency and corruption siphon off some of their money.

Many supplement their income by chanting up to five hours a day at local temples — essentially singing for their supper — in return for 10 cents and a bowl of rice. Goswami gave that up when her health deteriorated.

Activists argue that policies should aim to make the widows financially independent rather than depending on minuscule handouts.

But others point out that some widows can earn a decent living at Vrindavan. Goswami's ashram forbids begging, but widows who live independently can earn up to $150 a month begging from the half-million pilgrims visiting each year.

The ashram believes begging is a social evil, particularly when residents' basic needs are covered. Verma, the ashram's manager, said some Vrindavan residents aren't really widows and use the earnings to support families back home.

"Many are faking," she said, adding that her ashram informally vets newcomers to limit the abuse. "Some lie for a nice place to live."

In sharp contrast with a nearby six-lane highway and new gated communities with names like Omaxe Eternity and Hare Krishna Residency, some of the government- and charity-run ashrams evoke the Victorian era.

Mahila's residents appear relatively comfortable, but at an adjoining ashram run by another civic group, bugs course across the floor, a diesel smell fills hallways that lead to dilapidated rooms and the plumbing is broken.

Goswami took a circuitous path to her ashram. On reaching Vrindavan with her two toddler sons — the in-laws kept her daughter, whom she never saw again — she said she worked for several years as a cook and maid until she was injured when a monkey attacked her, causing her to fall two stories.

One son went insane after "a girl from Bombay put a hex on him," she said, while the other followed his father into the Hindu priesthood. "He makes good money," she said.

"But he's thrown me away."

Goswami said she thought about killing herself when she was widowed but resisted, given her responsibilities. "Sometimes I wish I'd committed sati," she said. "I didn't because of my sons, and look how they treat me."

As she spoke, she looked around the crowded dormitory decorated with images of Hindu gods. "The fact of it is," she said, "widows are doomed."

Tanvi Sharma of The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.



In India, trained priests from lower caste still awaiting jobs


In India's Tamil Nadu state, a lawsuit by upper-caste Brahmins has kept lower-caste Dalits from taking up jobs as priests, the tradition domain of Brahmins.

By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times
4:37 PM PDT, October 1, 2012

CHENNAI, India — Kesavan's father and grandfather were caretakers who sold candles and performed basic rituals at their local makeshift temple attended by fellow Dalits, or members of the so-called untouchable caste. In India, these structures are omnipresent around sacred trees, on sidewalks, abutting overpasses.

So when the government of southern India's Tamil Nadu state offered to train Hindus as priests regardless of their caste — a calling traditionally limited to upper-caste Brahmins — he leaped at the opportunity.

Four years after completing the yearlong program, however, he and 206 mostly lower-caste classmates are still waiting for jobs as a lawsuit filed by Brahmin groups wends its way through India's Supreme Court. While the state owns and runs most temples in Tamil Nadu, the suit says, it has no right to meddle in priest selection or administration. Angry and frustrated, the Dalit trainees say the long delay only underscores Brahmins' entrenched power in Indian society.

"We're all doing makeshift work to survive," said Kesavan, 26, who, like many southern Indians, uses one name. "It's a tough fight."

Frustrating their ambitions are Brahmin religious groups, politically minded Hindu nationalists and traditionalists keen to defend one of the last overt structures protecting the 4,000-year-old caste system.

Traditionally, Dalits have occupied the bottom rung of this complex hierarchy. They are viewed as unclean and relegated to jobs such as collecting human waste in a country where two-thirds of households lack a sewer connection. Although outright discrimination in cities has eased in recent decades, with Dalits edging into business and politics, religion has remained largely off limits. And on the social front, customs and prejudice remain entrenched, especially in rural areas.

"The priests are the last vestige, the root of Brahmin power," said S. Kirupanandasamy, a port executive and lawyer advising the trainees in their struggle for recognition. "We're not asking them to appoint some thief to the temple. These boys are well-trained and qualified."

The wannabe priests say they are not trying to take over India's most famous temples or push Brahmins out. In fact, India has a significant priest shortage amid changing lifestyles that has left thousands of temples of all sorts shuttered. Rather, they just want jobs in some of Tamil Nadu's 34,000 state-run temples, they say, in keeping with a constitution that outlaws caste and other discrimination.

The real problem isn't Dalit impurity or tradition, they argue. Rather, it's that Brahmins don't want to share money or power.

Officially, priest salaries are modest, often $50 to $150 a month. But earnings from weddings, blessing ceremonies and funerals can be substantial. Top priests also rub shoulders with elite politicians, businessmen and socialites, opening various social and economic doors.

"They arrange deals with VIPs," said Sathguru, 28, a Dalit who completed the course. "And they don't want to let others in."

Further upsetting tradition, the Dalit trainees want mantras and blessings to be said in the local Tamil language rather than ancient Sanskrit, which they believe further safeguards Brahmin power. "Even pious people can't understand what they're saying to the gods," Kirupanandasamy said. "It's a dead language."

Brahmin groups, which filed their Supreme Court challenge in 2006 knowing India's creaky legal system would stall reform for years, counter that allowing lower-caste priests to practice at major temples would tear at India's religious fabric and impair individual temples' right to run their own affairs. Although the course was allowed to go ahead, the appointment of Dalit priests has been blocked until the case is resolved.

"Dalits are not impure, but they're not as pure as Brahmins," said V. Jagannathan, general secretary of Chennai's Brahman Thamizhnadu Brahmin Assn., adding that Dalits smoke, drink and wear dirty clothes.

"This is a political drama," he said. "Priests can't be government approved; it's hereditary."

Trainees believe southern India is an ideal place to challenge the status quo given that the caste system arrived relatively late and the Brahmin population, while influential, is among the smallest in India.

Furthermore, both of the state's main political parties sprang from an early 1900s anti-religious movement headed by Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, a member of a mid-tier caste who famously told followers: If you see a snake and a Brahmin on the road, kill the Brahmin first.

But politics has also worked against the trainees, with the current state government less enthusiastic than its predecessor, even quietly resistant, when it comes to taking on the Brahmins, making it more likely the issue will languish in court.

Tamil Nadu is no stranger to caste indignities, although it's probably no worse than in other states. Over the years, Dalits have been attacked and burned alive; Dalit women have been sexually assaulted to "show them their place." Two years ago, upper-caste residents in two villages strung barbed wire to keep out Dalits.

Kesavan said he was very excited about the state's certificate course in "Agama Sastras," or priesthood studies, with its instruction in giving blessings, performing rituals and worshiping the gods.

But bias soon cropped up, he and other Dalit trainees said. Two Brahmin students quit the program, reportedly under pressure from Brahmin friends who considered them traitors, and trainees and their teachers were hit and verbally abused by Brahmins in temples.

Brahmin instructors taught them childish songs instead of core precepts and refused to instruct them in Sanskrit, the key to a priest's credibility. "The syllabus was dumbed down," said Kesavan. "They wanted to waste our time, fill our heads with silly information."

Some Brahmins support their quest, however, including Ramesh Bhattacharya, 40, a priest who mentored trainee Raja Vinnarasu, 26. "If the system isn't reformed, Brahmins will continue treating Dalits like sweepers," Bhattacharya said. "India is changing, but Brahmin priests are a last holdout."

Most Brahmins interested in the priesthood learn through apprenticeships, in some cases supplemented by basic courses. Although a few Dalits have become priests in recent years, most are one-off cases, with this among the most systematic attempts to upend the age-old traditions.

As the years drag on without priesthood jobs, many trainees are doing religious odd jobs or drifting back to farming, working in shops or other low-paying jobs to make ends meet. They remain in close touch, they say, keeping one another's spirits up. Some have paid for private Sanskrit classes to boost their skills.

They have also held fasts, information exchanges and peaceful protests at large temples to garner public support.

"We get hit, local police harass us," said V. Ranganathan, 25, who left a high-tech job to join the program. "People say, 'You're not eligible. You're impure. You eat meat,' which isn't true. But if we win this case, there will be real freedom in India."

For Kesavan, who says he has wanted to become a priest his whole life, serving at a big, recognized temple where he can help more people remains his dream.

"The Brahmin priests will never let us in voluntarily," he said, standing outside Chennai's Sri Parthasarathy Temple. "But there's nothing else I can imagine doing with my life. I have to become a priest. For me, there's no other way."

Tanvi Sharma of The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.


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