Those who dare to violate the ‘ban' face abuse, threats from caste Hindus

After several years of struggle and agitation, the Dalits of Perali village in Perambalur district say they continue to face discrimination at the hands of caste Hindus.

They still cannot ride a bicycle on streets where upper caste members reside. Those who dare to violate the ‘ban' face abuse and threats.

In 2002, the All India Democratic Women's Association organised an agitation in the village, forcing the district administration to intervene. A group of Dalit boys and girls cycled along the upper caste streets under the supervision of Revenue officials. The freedom was short-lived.

Dalits students of the Government Higher Secondary School in the village still cannot take the upper caste streets though it is a shorter, safe route.

They have get down from the bicycle and push it or go via the busy Perambalur-Ariyalur High Road , says 49-year-old N. Ayyakannu, a real estate broker. Even the postmaster, a Dalit, cannot ride his bicycle on the upper caste streets.

“After all the representations and agitations many of us are fed up and have come to the conclusion that things will not change,” he says.

Dalits constitute a minority in the village.

Many among them have to work as agricultural labourers for the affluent and dominant caste Hindus and can hardly afford to go against the wishes of their employers.

Dalits are not allowed to enter the temple on the upper caste street, says Mr. Ayyakannu.

‘The two-tumbler system' is prevalent in some of the tea shops, says Arumugam, a 70-year-old agricultural labourer. “The system is followed except in two shops. We cannot even sit as equals with caste Hindus on the benches at the tea shops.”

Though the village has a library, Dalit youth can only sit on the floor, says Suresh, a Dalit boy.

Charge denied

K. Padaikathu, president of the village panchayat, who belongs to the upper caste community, denied there was any ban on Dalits cycling through the upper caste streets.

When probed further, he conceded that there could be a few minor issues, but maintained there were no major problems in the village.

“Such problems were there some years back when I was young. But now, we co-exist peacefully.”

Asked about Dalits being denied admission to the temple, Mr.Padaikathu said there were separate temples in upper caste and Dalit streets and there was agreement that the two communities would worship separately.