A shopkeeper’s refusal to sell snacks to Scheduled Caste children in Panjankulam in Tenkasi district last week was not a stray case, but caste discrimination and it has been happening over the last two years or more, said Evidence executive director A. Kathir here on Wednesday.
A fact-finding team from the Evidence, an NGO, visited the village in Tenkasi district and interacted with the villagers and the children. Speaking to reporters, he said that the village had about 80 families from an inter mediate caste and about 50 families from the SC and another 12 families from another OBC community.
Till 2019, the villagers apparently lived in absolute harmony. There were two cricket teams comprising youth from the village. Each team had 50:50 representation from Dalits and the intermediate caste. At regular intervals, holidays and on special occasions, the boys conducted matches and the team which won celebrated it without any discrimination.
However, sometime in mid 2020s, the situation changed. Some people in the intermediate caste, under the guise of “Oor Kattupaadu” (decision of the panchayat) stopped their boys from mingling with the SCs. The teams were dismantled and two cricket teams were formed for the two caste groups. There was tension after every match, irrespective of who won.
“If the authorities had looked into it, the issue could have been stopped in the budding stage,” many villagers from the inter-mediate caste had opined then.
The fact finding team also interacted with the children, who were refused snacks by the shopkeeper. Till this date, the children were unaware of the reason as to why they were refused snacks. They said that the panchayat union school made them (Dalits) sit on the floor, while others were given benches. When such was the confession from the children, Tamil Nadu School Education Minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi’s statement that there was no untouchability in the school, was unfortunate, Mr Kathir charged.
Evidence, while welcoming the swift action taken by the Inspector General of Police (south zone) Asra Garg as per the laws, hoped the revenue and district administration in Tenkasi also acted in a fair and transparent manner.
The fact finding team said that based on the statements and their visit, the government should immediately provide toilets and drinking water facilities at the panchayat union school. It also urged the arrest of all those who had participated in the meeting, which had ratified decisions to keep the SCs away. The team also said that the government should ensure that private buses stopped in the Dalit colony.