Was Asked to Specify Caste in Gujarat Temple: Selja

New Delhi
Was Asked to Specify Caste in Gujarat Temple: Selja

Congress leader Kumari Selja today created a stir in the Rajya Sabha by claiming that she was asked about her caste when she had visited Dwarka temple in Gujarat as a Cabinet Minister, leading to arguments between the ruling and opposition sides.

"I am dalit, but I am Hindu. I feel like visiting temples. I wanted to go to Dwarka temple. I have visited hundreds of temple. (I visited) Dwarka temple, I was Cabinet Minister. I was asked about my caste," she said while participating in debate on 'Commitment to the Constitution'.

Some members of the Treasury benches objected to the allegation of Selja who was supported by several Congress members who were on their feet.

To this, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he too has visited the temple but was not asked about his caste.

Pramod Tiwari (Cong) said there was no reason why one should not believe what Selja was saying.

As tempers ran high, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien tried to pacify the members of both the two sides.

With BJP members contesting her allegation, Selja said the members of the ruling party have "raised a question on my integrity".

Kurien tried to pacify Selja but she said her "integrity" and "honesty" has been questioned and she was being "subjected" to humilation on the floor of the House.

"Don't read too much", the Deputy Chairman told Selja and asked her whether anybody had said she was "lying". He said the BJP members have merely expressed disagreement with her statement.

Kurien said he will go through the records and if any member has questioned her integrity, necessary action will be taken and he may even reprimand the member concerned.

Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said it was a serious issue if it had happened. At the same time, he asked her whether she had taken up the issue with the then Gujarat Chief Minister (Narendra Modi) or Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh).

To this, she said, "I choose not to answer".

Selja went on to question why the "curiosity" that arose in the Leader of the House was not found in any other member.

She said the fact that minister after minister is speaking on the issue is also an "intolerance". She said she was only expressing what she had exprienced.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu said if somebody has made a comment, Gujarat people "feel" the state is being defamed.

Kurien also said what members say in the House is taken at the "face value" and if a member has misled the House, there are procedures to deal with issue.

P L Punia (Cong), who is also Chairman of National Commission for Schedule Castes, too said that Dalits are not allowed inside a temple in Odisha. 

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said if Selja was hurt by the comment of a BJP member, there was no harm in apologising.

Selja said a priest had asked about her caste during the vist to Dwarka temple. "What is your caste...This is Gujarat model," she said, an apparent jibe at Modi.

She said if a such a thing had happened, the incident should be criticised and not her. She said that by organising the two-day debate in Parliament, the ruling party was only trying to "score political points".

Selja, who is from Haryana, also raised the issue of burning of two dalit children in the state and death of another dalit boy. She also said that a Haryana Minister had humilated a dalit woman Superintendent of Police. "This is their (BJP) habit," Selja added.

Punia said there are instances, where dalits are not allowed to worship in temples. He mentioned an instance, about a temple in Odisha, where a board had been put up asking dalits not to go beyond a point, while others were allowed to move ahead and worship.

He said when he along with a group of people went there, the pujari ran away after locking that temple. In this case, he however added, that an FIR had already been registered.

After Punia spoke, BJP MP Bhupendra Yadav from Odisha said members should not say anything, which they can't authenticate. Some other members of the ruling party also said that Punia should give exact date of the incident.

As an argument ensued, Kurien, who was in the chair, said that when a member speaks, the Chair presumes it to be true and take it at face value. He said if any member believes there is an attempt to mislead the House, they can raise it under appropriate rules.

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