Selvam is a postgraduate who works in a private company. Neither his economic or educational status can guarantee social equality at a tea shop in his village where he will be served tea only in a separate tumbler.
The socially abhorrent practice of having separate tumblers for caste Hindus and Dalits is still in vogue in some villages in Madurai. The district police have filed a case against a teashop owner at Madaipatti in Usilampatti taluk for practising the ‘two-tumbler' system, which has once again brought to light the practice of discrimination against Dalits. Following a complaint by Kallusami belonging to the Dalit community, a case has been registered against teashop owner N. Raja Thevar, under Section 3(1) 10 of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. His shop has been ‘sealed.' After coming to know of the police action, the accused is absconding.
Raja Thevar has disposable cups for Dalits and stainless steel tumblers for caste Hindus. This discrimination extends to outsiders visiting the village; if he is a relative of a caste Hindu he would get tea in a stainless steel tumbler or in a glass tumbler. If the person is known to have come to meet a Dalit, he would be given tea in a plastic cup.
The village has a population of 90 families belonging to Dalits and 400 belonging to Piramalai Kallars.
The village had already earned notoriety for its practices of untouchability where Dalits were prevented from using footwear in the caste Hindu area.
A few months ago, police intervened and filed cases against those who practised the discrimination after which it was stopped.
The practice of having two tumblers has undergone many changes with subtler forms to escape the attention of monitoring agencies. Citing pollution, once Dalits were served tea in coconut shells; then came separate glass tumblers for Dalits which they had to wash themselves, while everyone else was served tea in steel cups.
Then, Dalits were given tea in separate glass tumblers and in order to prevent the mixing of tumblers owners used red/yellow/green paint marks on the bottom of tumblers meant for Dalits. In many places, they were asked to bring their own cups. Now, for Dalits, it is disposable plastic cups and for others it is stainless steel cups. In most cases, Dalits can't sit on benches in tea stalls but have to squat or sit on the floor.
A recent study by an NGO, Evidence, found that the two-tumbler system is in vogue in 104 villages in Tamil Nadu. Its prevalence was found to be high also in 14 villages in Coimbatore district. The practice was found in 14 villages in Dindigul district and in 13 villages n Salem.
SP warns of stern action
Superintendent of Police Asra Garg, talking to The Hindu, agreed that the practice existed in a few villages in Madurai and now “we have identified a shop where it was practised and have filed cases under SC/ST Act.”
All the police stations coming under the district would be asked to issue warning to owners of tea stalls in their respective limits to stop it immediately.
“We will ask intelligence officials to monitor and if the practice is not stopped serious action would be taken and the practice which is against the Constitution will be eradicated,” he said.
The Supreme Court Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra in April, 2011 has described the two-tumbler system as highly objectionable and an offence under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and criminal proceedings must be carried out against those practising such acts. They must be given harsh punishment, if found guilty.