Caste raises its ugly head in calamity


Divisions between Dalits and OBCs have an effect on flood relief initiatives.

Deep divisions between the Dalits and the OBCs in the northern districts has had an effect on the flood relief initiatives with Caste Hindus in several villages across Cuddalore allegedly objecting to trucks carrying materials attending to Scheduled Caste settlements first.

Civilian volunteers who were involved in relief measures faced a difficult task when they ventured into remote villages, where caste prejudices have strengthened since the Dharmapuri riots of 2012.

The devastated village of Onankuppam in Kurinjipadi provided a perfect picture of how Dalits had to wait for the trucks to serve the Caste Hindu settlement before they could distribute the relief materials in their area.

When the Army visited the village to hold a medical camp, the OBC villagers took the column to a house at the centre of the village. Given the atmosphere of mutual suspicion, Dalits were reluctant to venture into the OBC settlement to access the medical camp.

In fact, the villagers told The Hindu that a more pressing problem they faced was the narrowness of a bridge that Neyveli Lignite Corporation had built for them. “If the bridge was wider, we could completely avoid moving through the SC settlement to reach the main road,” said Ganesan, an OBC resident. Women agreed alleging that their young daughters were being “teased” if they walked through the SC area.

“Since our huts are in the periphery of the village, we are the worst affected. But every time a truck comes in, it is taken directly into the Caste Hindu settlement where we have not gone in for years now,” said a Dalit woman, who was disinclined to identify herself anticipating backlash. Several houses belonging to the SC community members were submerged in the area.

In about 20 villages this reporter visited on Monday and Tuesday, the story was startlingly similar. In Payirvelivellaiyankuppam area, Dalits recollected how an NGO truck carrying hundreds of bottles of drinking water was rerouted to the intermediate caste settlement. “When the truck came back, it hardly had ten cartons,” a villager alleged. Apprehensions were also raised on involving panchayat presidents in relief works since many were from the Caste Hindu groups in Cuddalore.

However, Dalits also pointed out that once the police started accompanying the trucks, there were more materials reaching them.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, senior IAS officer Gagandeep Singh Bedi, who is supervising the relief operations in Cuddalore, said specific instructions were given to ensure that relief measures take place first in areas dominated by huts since this was where the poorest lived. Joint medical camps organised with the Army was held in a number of predominantly Dalit villages of Suthukulam, Sottavanam, Reddyarpalayam, Kolakudi Mettu and Vellapakkam. By providing contact numbers, feedback was also being received from areas where relief operations were on.

“When huts of Dalits were washed away in floods at Periyakattupalayam, we immediately sanctioned Rs 12 lakh and built temporary shelters for all of them,” Mr. Bedi said.

Dalits had to wait for trucks to serve Caste Hindus before they could get relief materials

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 9:26:40 PM |

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