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Birth vs Merit. Kerala Temple Priests and the Courts

Abstract : In recent years, men born into various non-Brahmanical castes, including former 'untouchables', have been appointed as priests at Brahmanical public temples in Kerala. The constitutionality of such appointments has been challenged and was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court in 2002. This decision, I suggest, has to be seen as the outcome of developments by which the courts came to define priesthood in terms of technical procedures performed by expert, but 'secular' persons, i.e. employees selected solely on merit. Such a legal understanding, however, conflicts with widely held expectations about priesthood in terms of birth qualifications. Birth equality for temple priestly services, I argue, has now become a possible legal claim as a result of the progressive administrative 'rationalization' of Hindu religious institutions through State action, and because it also meets for various reasons with political consensus.
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Gilles Tarabout. Birth vs Merit. Kerala Temple Priests and the Courts. Daniela Berti; Gilles Tarabout; Raphaël Voix. Filing Religion. State, Hinduism, and Courts of Law, Oxford University Press, pp.3-33, 2016, 978-0199463794. ⟨hal-01341078⟩

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