Tamil Nadu

Caste Hindus say ‘no’ to Dalit anganwadi workers at Valayapatti in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district

M. Annalakshmi (left) and M. Jyothilakshmi.   | Photo Credit: R. Ashok

On June 3, M. Annalaksmi received an order from the Madurai Collector’s office confirming her appointment as anganwadi worker in her village Valayapatti. Ms. Annalakshmi, a Scheduled Caste woman, appointed as a helper and a cook at the anganwadi centre, was transferred to Kilavaneri, a nearby village by the district administration the next day.

“The caste Hindus of the village went to the ICDS office in Tirumangalam taluk and said that their children would never eat food prepared by an SC woman,” she said.

The district administration, succumbing to pressure and fearing backlash from the caste Hindus, immediately transferred her to Kilavaneri and another SC appointee M. Jyothilakshmi to Madhipanur. The latter, appointed as an anganwadi worker in the same Valayapatti centre, was in charge of supervising the cooking. The people who complained said they thought the presence of the two women itself would pollute the food. Both of them now fear going back home alone.

Their transfer comes in the backdrop of a clash between the caste Hindus and SCs.

On June 8, they stormed the Dalit Colony and broke doors, damaged vehicles, injured people and livestock, they say. “What saddens me is that I’m not able to work in my own village,” said Ms. Jyothilakshmi.

When fighting ensued

Ms. Jyothilakshmi said that she was told not to go to her village’s anganwadi on June 4. “I went to submit a certificate after a medical examination, ready to begin work. But the officer there told me that several men and women from my village had come to the centre opposing our appointment. They had apparently told the officer that they would never touch the food prepared by Dalits,” she said.

According to Ms. Jyothilakshmi and Ms. Annalakshmi, trouble began when Dalits were not allowed to worship at the local Muthalamman temple festival in April. “Young caste Hindu men refused to allow us to even break coconuts from outside,” she said.

Ms. Annalakshmi said that the festival was usually followed by a jallikattu. However, permission was denied this year as the dates were very close to the Lok Sabha election. “Their young men assumed that the Dalits were rejoicing the denial of permission for jallikattu. They began to prevent us from entering the village to reach the ration shop or the common bathing complex. They even refused work to elders from our community,” she said.

“When my order came on June 3, they refused to let me work. That hurt me.” Ms. Jyothilakshmi now walks 1.5 km to board the bus from Alapalachery to Madhipanur. “I tried for this job since I turned 18 and have always wanted to teach children,” she added.

Ms. Annalakshmi said that her transfer resulting from the communal tension had caused her mental stress. “What else can we do but feel bad about it,” she asked.

Status today

On June 8, tension escalated when caste Hindus refused to provide drinking water to Dalit households. When Dalits went to Nagayyapuram police station to register a complaint, the caste Hindus entered their houses, broke power meter boxes, doors, bikes and attacked their livestock. Some men were injured in the clash, said A. Pechiammal, Ms. Jyothilakshmi’s mother who was present when the incident occurred.

Valayapatti wears a deserted look today as Dalits stay inside their houses and most caste Hindus have fled the area as police are actively looking out for the accused. V. Manniammal, A. Panchavarnam and G. Bhagyam, who are among the few caste Hindus still staying in the village, confirmed that they had sought the transfer of the two anganwadi workers. “We have never had major caste clashes here and always had a mother-child relationship with the Dalits. But their customs are different from ours. Our children will not like their food. They will not eat the food cooked by them,” said Ms. Panchavarnam.

Peraiyur DSP T. Mathialagan is conducting an inquiry into the matter. So far, 11 accused have been remanded in judicial custody. The police have registered cases under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and IPC.

Collector (in-charge) S. Shantha Kumar said that he, along with other senior officials, visited the village on June 11 as a confidence building measure. “Everyone can go back to their work and this caste issue, as far as the district administration is concerned, is closed,” he said. However, the two women are yet to receive any intimation from their higher officials about reinstatement in Valayapatti.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 8:06:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/caste-hindus-say-no-to-dalit-anganwadi-workers-at-valayapatti-in-tamil-nadus-madurai-district/article27891820.ece

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