In most cases, the upward mobility and economic independence of Dalits have resulted in furthering oppression against them by caste Hindus and dominant castes. One such case is the social ostracism of Dalits of Thummakundu in Usilampatti in Madurai district.

Thummakundu has a predominant population of Piramalai Kallars and almost all nearby villages are populated by them with the Dalits, a minority, in this belt. The Dalit locality in Kizhakku Theru (East Street) and Indira 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 and are not dependent on the Piramalai Kallars for work as they once were.

During the annual Santhana Mariamman Temple festival, Dalit women, as part of their ritual, carry ‘mulaippari' (sprouts) and go on a procession to dissolve them in the nearby ‘oorani' (water body) which is common to all castes. This has been the practice for so many years.

However, on the festival day (May 9), caste Hindus, seeing the event being conducted in a grand manner in the recent past, objected to the practice and asked them not to use the ‘oorani.' When a Dalit girl was prevented from taking the ‘mulaippari' to the ‘oorani,' the Dalits staged a road roko.

Subsequently, a peace meeting was held on May 12 by Revenue Divisional Officer S.Shanthi in which Tirumangalam DSP. Usilampatti Tahsildar, Inspector of Police and Revenue Inspector of Sindhupatti, participated. During the meeting, it was decided that no individual or community of people had the right to prevent another from using a public property and it would not only be illegal to prevent Dalits from enjoying constitutionally guaranteed rights but also would be a form of untouchability.

However, the caste Hindus who had initially agreed and signed the peace agreement before the revenue officials later went to the village and organised a village meeting where they decided to wield the weapon of social ostracism. The Dalits were denied goods in the grocery shops, tea and milk in the tea stalls, people who used to work as agricultural labourers were denied jobs. This time, the caste Hindus stopped water supply. When equal rights are demanded, the caste Hindus wield the weapon of social ostracism. Even small children are not spared, they are denied candies at shops, laments a woman.

After hearing that Dalits were ostracised, the RDO visited the village and found that it was true and later held talks with shopkeepers and warned them, following which from Sunday they lifted the ban. Ms.Shanti told The Hindu on Sunday that untouchability in any form would never be allowed in the village.

The social unrest in the village has taken a labour turn after construction workers were ostracised by members of their own association on the basis of caste. A. Chinnathambi, a construction worker from the East Street, has been ostracised from participating in work by the caste Hindus. As many as 72 men belonging to the Dalit community from Thummakundu are part of the construction labour force.