After pictures comparing Indian President Droupadi Murmu's visit to the Lord Jagannath temple in Delhi's Hauz Khas village with Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw's visit to the same temple two years ago started circulating on social media, many people expressed disgust at the treatment meted out to the president.
Murmu visited the Lord Jagannath temple in Delhi's Hauz Khas village on Tuesday, 20 June, on the occasion of the commencement of the annual rath yatra.
She reached the temple early morning at around 6.30 am to offer her prayers to the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. She tweeted about her visit a little past 8 am in Hindi and Odia and also posted pictures from her visit.
However, as can be seen in the video posted by news agency ANI at 6.50 am, Murmu stands behind a wooden plank that separates her from the area that houses the idols.
The priests can be seen standing on the other side of the plank and offering prayers on behalf of the president.
Ashwini Vaishnaw, who has two portfolios of Railways and Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, too had visited the Hauz Khas temple two years ago on 12 July 2021 on the occasion of rath yatra. Vaishnaw was accompanied by Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
In contrast to Murmu, Vaishnaw can be seen going directly to the idols and praying, as seen in a video report by TV9 Bharatvarsh.
Vaishnaw had posted photos of his visit to the Lord Jagannath temple on Twitter.
Casteist Insult: Swami Prasad Maurya
Samajwadi Party leader Swami Prasad Maurya shared photos from Murmu and Vaishnaw's respective visits and said that the treatment given to the Indian president was a casteist insult. Vaishnaw is a Brahmin while Murmu belongs to an Adivasi community.
"Making Honourable President Murmu worship from a distance in the temple premises for being born in the Adivasi community is not just a grave insult to the country's highest post but it also is the bitter truth of casteist insult in the name of caste and religion," he wrote
Senior journalist and columnist Dilip Mandal said that the temple priests should be arrested.
"The temple where @AshwiniVaishnaw and @dpradhanbjp will pray from inside, touch the idol, in that temple Her Excellency Droupadi Murmu, the President of the Republic of India, was asked to worship from outside!" he wrote on Twitter.
"Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw can go inside but Honourable President Droupadi Murmu cannot. Why? Any answer?" the Twitter handle of Rashtriya Janata Dal posted.
Ploy to Defame Temple: Priests
Temple authorities dismissed the allegations that the president was discriminated against.
"People are politicising the issue, saying this one is Dalit that one is Adivasi, that's why wasn't allowed. There is no touchable/untouchable in front of god. Except a Muslim, any Hindu is allowed," temple priest Sanatan Padhi, who was present during Murmu's visit, told The Quint.
"We have this tradition that before the chariot procession (rath yatra) is taken out, the king is supposed to worship, break coconut and sweep the floor. However, the president came to the temple – it was her birthday that day – she came on her own to pray to the god. That is why she worshipped from outside and left. There is no connection with lower caste/ upper caste. If the president wanted to go inside, we wouldn't have any problem," he further added.
But when asked if the president could have gone inside that day if she wanted to, the priest said the person has to be invited by the Brahmins before the rath yatra for the traditional ritual and only then can be allowed inside.
"Before the chariot procession is taken out, the Brahmins go to invite the king of Puri. Then the king comes as an invitee, wears a crown and sweeps the premises in front of the deities," Padhi informed.
Responding to the social media allegations regarding differential treatment to Murmu and Vaishnaw, he said, "This is politicisation. It's not right. It's to defame the temple and create a bad feeling in Droupadi Murmu's heart."
The temple authorities also shared photos of former Cabinet minister and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Jual Oram with The Quint, which they claimed were from his visit to the temple in 2016, to demonstrate that the parliamentarian was allowed in the inner space despite being an Adivasi.
Though The Quint wasn't able to independently verify these two photos, Oram had posted on Facebook about visiting the temple on 6 July 2016 on the occasion of rath yatra and performing Chhera Pahara ritual.
The Lord Jagannath temple in Hauz Khas, which is modelled on the famous temple of Puri in Odisha, was built in 1967. The temple authorities began the tradition of rath yatra in 1979 in imitation of the Puri temple.
In 2018, India's then President Ram Nath Kovind and his wife Savita Kovind were allegedly blocked from approaching the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri. Kovind belongs to the Dalit community, who have historically faced denial of entry to Hindu temples due to opposition by the Savarnas.
The Puri temple has a board that says only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple. In 1984, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was blocked from entering the temple on the grounds that she was married to a Parsi.