The fresh allegation of social discrimination against the Dalit president of Kottakatchiyendal village in Virudhunagar district has led to a demand that the post of vice-presidents also be reserved.
The demand has been revived also in the backdrop of marginalised sections being prevented from enjoying power at the grassroots level in the three reserved village panchayats of Pappapati, Keeripatti and Nattamangalam in Madurai district.
On August 26, 2006, the then government decided not to de-reserve Pappapatti, Keeripatti and Nattamangalam in Madurai district and Kottakatchiyendal in Virudhunagar district after exempting them from “rotation policy” to facilitate the Dalits to contest and serve full terms.
Referring to Kottakatchiyendal village panchayat president V. Karuppan's claim that he was forced to sit on the floor during meetings by caste Hindu members, including the vice-president, social activists say this has underscored the need to reserve the vice-president posts to “eliminate caste and gender discrimination.”
A recent Madras High Court judgment has also endorsed the demand by asking the Tamil Nadu Government to “consider” the request for reserving the vice-president posts of village panchayats to avoid any caste discrimination and to ensure smooth functioning of the grass root level democratic institution.
“The Kottakatchiyendal practice of discrimination is nauseatingly repeated,” says M. P. Velusamy, president of Federation of Dalit Panchayat Presidents, Tamil Nadu.
The president of Manamai village panchayat in Kanchepuram district says Dalit presidents in many village panchayats are facing the caste-based discrimination, mainly from their vice presidents, a majority of whom are caste Hindus. Women village presidents and Dalit women presidents also face similar problems, he says.
Talking to The Hindu, G. Palanithurai, Dean and Coordinator of Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Department of Political Science and Development Administration,
Gandhigram Rural Deemed University, says that barring vice-presidents of Gram Panchayats and vice-chairpersons of Block and District Panchayats, reservation is in vogue for other posts.
“But 3,000 Dalit presidents and 4,200 women and Dalit women presidents have been facing challenges from their caste Hindu vice presidents, who have emerged as the biggest threat to democracy,” he adds.
The Panchayat Raj expert further points out while reserving seats for Dalits, women and Dalit women in village panchayats, the post of vice-president also should be reserved along with the president's post. “Once the president post is reserved, vice-president post also should be reserved,” he insists.
Many village presidents claim the present government has reserved posts for women and Dalits for two consecutive terms of 10 years.
“No other State has taken such a socially significant decision that strengthens the grassroots democracy,” says a Dalit president in Madurai district.
Various fora have approached the State Government with this specific request for reservation of the vice-president's post, stating that this would eliminate caste based discrimination.
Keywords: Dalit quota