D. Karthikeyan

Action after The Hindu report of discrimination against Dalits at Madurai village

MADURAI: On the orders of the Tamil Nadu government, authorities on Thursday removed the electric wires attached to the iron rods on a 600-metre wall that was meant to prevent the Dalits from entering caste Hindu areas at Uthapuram village, near Ezhumalai in Madurai district.

Officials acted swiftly after the discussion over the issue came up in the Tamil Nadu Assembly following a report in The Hindu. Electricity Minister Arcot N. Veeraswami told the Assembly that power line passing through the wall would be removed.

A team of officials, including a Deputy Collector, Revenue Inspector, Tahsildar and Village Administrative Officer, visited the village and called for a meeting of members of both communities at the Revenue Inspector’s Office. The Dalits turned up for the meeting, whereas the caste Hindus did not. Later, the electric wires were removed, said Marimuthu (alias) Thonthi, panchayat president.

There are about 2,000 families of Dalits, who outnumber every other caste in the village, but they still face discrimination.

Certain streets had been cordoned off with a permanent concrete structure, preventing access to Dalits. The Dalits saw this as a move to block common entry points, and thereby stop the castes from mingling.

The village, which has a long history of caste animosity, saw the erection of this wall following clashes in 1990. The fence atop it was being electrified during the night for the last 10 days. The caste Hindus also thwarted efforts by the Dalits to build a bus shelter. They recently raised the height of a parapet near the bus stop to prevent the Dalits from sitting in front of them.

The Dalits in Uthapuram village do not visit the teashops owned by caste Hindus. They are not allowed to enter the streets dominated by a particular caste. They are denied space in village squares and community halls and access to burial grounds.

Mr. Marimuthu claims even economic advancement has not accorded them social status. During events such as the temple car festival, Dalits are not allowed to hold the ceremonial ropes. Access to common property resources is also being denied.

Asked about the erection of the wall, a former panchayat president, Sena Vana Oyyanan, said: “We [kudiyanavargal] do not go in for anything. It is the Dalits … their militancy and aggressiveness have further widened the gap between castes and increased the frustration.”

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