Recent violence against them shows a pattern with economically stable households being the primary targets

In scores of cases, upliftment/empowerment and political assertion by Dalits have resulted in a simultaneous increase in their oppression by caste Hindus and dominant castes. The mindless violence unleashed upon Dalit households on Sunday in Paralipudur village in Dindigul district is one such case.

Paralipudur has a predominant population of Mutharaiyars (also called Muthurajas and Valaiyars) and almost all nearby villages — Kodangipatti, Vemparali, Kadavur, Lingapatti, Vathipatti and Kavarapatti — are populated by them with the Dalits a minority in this belt.

The immediate cause of the attack was a confrontation between Paraiyars (sect of Dalits) and Mutharaiyars over hoisting of flags on an overhead water tank. Youth belonging to the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi had pasted posters bearing images of B.R. Ambedkar and Thol. Thirumavalavan and hoisted a flag atop the tank after a wedding ceremony. This invited the wrath of the Mutharaiyars, who hoisted their association flag.

VCK cadre removed the flags following the intervention of elders of both castes but the flag of Mutharaiyars was still there. The flag was reportedly garlanded with footwear by miscreants. This incident was the trigger for them to unleash violence against the Dalits.

Pattern of violence

The violence against the Dalits here shows a pattern (more like Kodiyankulam), in which Dalit households which were economically stable were the primary targets.

Caste Hindus carrying iron rods, clubs and petrol cans went on the rampage after switching off power supply (a similar incident happened at Mela Orappanur near Madurai in 2005), burnt down haystacks, cattlesheds, brought down tiled roof of many houses and stole valuables, including jewellery, says P. Jayakumar (25) of Indira Nagar.

It was large-scale destruction of property. A few houses and shops were burnt down completely; many houses were damaged and ransacked.

The destruction was not limited to objects of everyday use, but also on sources of livelihood such as cattle, agricultural implements, pushcarts and sewing machines. Almost 85 houses both in Indira Nagar and Ambedkar Colony in the village have been damaged.

A couple of Dalit elders said that the caste Hindus were unable to digest the upward mobility of Dalits and their political assertion under the VCK. Erection of flagpoles, posters and banners by Dalit youth during various occasions has been seen as threats to their social status of dominance.

The Dalit colony, which has close to 150 families, has a good number of people who are graduates. A few of them are working in government offices. Most of them work as agricultural labourers and construction workers and a few do assorted jobs in Madurai city and are not dependent on the Mutharaiyars for work as they once were. The Dalit women say they need adequate police protection.

Various human rights organisations and fact-finding teams, comprising writers and advocates, have visited the village. In their reports, they have stated that the mass attack on Dalits is a bad precedent and must be curbed with an iron hand.

They further say that the Dalits suffered huge losses that warrant payment of adequate compensation by the State government. They complain that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has not been invoked and many major sections were left out.

Social scientists have found that attacks on Dalits who are politically assertive have become common. This phenomenon of controlling Dalits through violence and disciplining when ideological control has no hold is largely found among middle castes and castes, which are on the threshold of untouchability.

Police sources say that people belonging to Mutharaiyars, who were involved in the attack were actually mobilised for their attempt to erect a statue of Perumbidigu Mutharaiyar at Natham Bus Stand. They were diverted to Paralipudur following rumours that their flag was desecrated.

Minister for Revenue, I. Periasamy, visited the village on Wednesday and interacted with the residents.