A Dalit-dominated hamlet in remote area of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is on the radar of top officials of the Mayawati administration nowadays. At the crux of their interest is a new goddess ‘Angrezi Devi’.
Construction of a temple consecrated to this goddess of English is in full swing in Jang Bahadur Ganj village of Lakhimpur Kheri district. But tension has already begun to simmer over this unique campaign to popularise English and modern education among Dalits. Upper castes feel this is the first step towards conversion of Dalits to Christianity. They also feel worshipping ‘Angrezi Devi’ is an insult to Hindu goddesses.
“Those who are opposing the ‘Angrezi Devi’ temple are either ignorant or are acting at the behest of some vested interests,” says renowned writer on Dalit issues, Dr Chandrabhan Prasad, who is the driving force behind the ingenious initiative. “English education is the primary need of Dalits. We are working on Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s inspiration,” he said.
A three-feet high statue of the goddess of English is ready for installation. The statue is designed on the lines of New York’s Statue of Liberty. It holds aloft a pen in one hand and a copy of the Indian Constitution in the other.
But even as Dalits of Jang Bahadur Ganj toil day and night for the proposed inauguration of the new temple by month-end, top officials in Lucknow are a worried lot. “We have been getting reports of tension between Dalits and upper castes over this temple… we only hope this issue doesn’t flare up,” a senior police official said. State intelligence agencies, he added, were keeping a close eye on the situation.
“The upper castes feel this is only a ruse to convert Dalits to Christianity,” he said, adding that a number of people had apprised senior district officials of their objections. “They also see the temple as an attempt to grab land,” the official said.
Because of its Dalit dimension, the “Angrezi Devi” issue is highly sensitive for the Mayawati government. So, no senior official is willing to go on record about the controversy.
Meanwhile, students of the Nalanda Shiksha Niketan, a local Dalit school, have even written a prayer to worship the goddess in English.
The structure of the temple, being built on about 800 square feet of land, is almost complete. Prasad says the temple walls would be adorned with scientific formulae, famous quotes and gems of knowledge from a variety of subjects. However, what remains to be seen is whether this new temple spreads the light of knowledge or the flames of caste conflict.