S. Dorairaj

"Murder of Dalit panchayat chiefs betrays caste oppression"

Seeks the support of all parties Untouchability prevalent in villages

CHENNAI: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) in the State have expressed serious concern at "attempts by vested interests among casteist social groups to defeat efforts to empower Dalits at the grass-roots level."

In the wake of the murder of two Dalit panchayat presidents in Tirunelveli district in the last four months and reports of various obstacles to the smooth functioning of panchayats headed by Dalits, the two parties have called for serious efforts by the State Government to meet the challenges thrown at it by the oppressive forces.

The CPI and CPI (M) have also appealed to all political parties to stand united in making a meaningful contribution to alter the situation.

State CPI (M) secretary N.Varadarajan told The Hindu that a recent survey conducted by the party showed that untouchability prevailed in varied forms in about 75 per cent of the villages. In some areas, it was practised in its most cruel forms. The report would be placed before the State CPI (M) Committee at its meeting slated for April 7 and 8. The party would raise the issue in the Assembly, besides launching a series of awareness programmes, he said.

Mr. Varadarajan and CPI Central Executive Committee member R. Nallakannu also referred to the final declaration of the convention of the "newly elected Dalit Local Government Representatives of Tamil Nadu" held in Madurai on February 24 and 25 that the State had to go a long way in implementing the 73rd Constitutional amendment in letter and spirit and the Dalit representatives were the worst victims.

They said the gruesome murder of the presidents of Marudankinaru and Nakkalamuthanpatti panchayats in Tirunelveli betrayed the intensity of the caste oppression in rural areas. Both the victims were Arunthathiars, the worst affected among the Dalits. Their attempt to expose the "corrupt practices" of their predecessors was said to be the motive behind the murders, Mr.Varadarajan said.

Official apathy

The two leaders were of the view that "indifference" on the part of the local officials had contributed to the sorry state of affairs. The action taken by the authorities in the murder cases were dubbed an "eyewash," as many such cases did not proceed beyond the stage of filing of first information reports, Mr. Varadarajan said.

The communist veterans stressed the need for ensuring that the panchayats headed by Dalits received government funds earmarked for them.

The Dalit women panchayat chiefs bore the brunt of the ill treatment, they alleged. If vice-presidents of panchayats did not cooperate with Dalit presidents in the release of funds for taking up works, relevant law should be invoked to make alternative arrangements, Mr. Nallakannu said.

Denying that he was levelling any charge against the Government, Mr. Varadarajan said the authorities concerned should view the attacks on the elected Dalit chiefs as a form of atrocity against the oppressed.

He urged the Government to form all-party monitoring panels comprising elected representatives at district and taluk levels to instil confidence in Dalit panchayat chiefs, besides making officials to keep vigil.

The Government should launch an awareness campaign through short films and folk arts to end the atrocities, he said.