Tamil Nadu

Dalit panchayat chief in Cuddalore forced to sit on floor, secretary suspended

Rajeshwari Saravana Kumar, president of Therku Thittai Panchayat in Mel Bhuvanagiri block in Cuddalore district sitting on the floor during a panchayat meeting held in July. File photo

Rajeshwari Saravana Kumar, president of Therku Thittai Panchayat in Mel Bhuvanagiri block in Cuddalore district sitting on the floor during a panchayat meeting held in July. File photo

A panchayat secretary in Cuddalore district has been suspended after it came to light that Rajeshwari Saravana Kumar, president of Therku Thittai Panchayat, belonging to the Scheduled Caste, was forced to sit on the floor during panchayat meetings.

The police have also booked a case against panchayat vice-president Mohan Raj, a caste Hindu, under Section 3 (1) (r) of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Ms. Kumar, whose panchayat falls under the Mel Bhuvanagiri block, spoke about the harassment and discrimination she faced from caste Hindus, including Mr. Raj, after a photo of her sitting on the ground while other members were seated on chairs at a panchayat meeting went viral. The meeting was held in July.

Collector Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri told The Hindu on Saturday that the matter was brought to the notice of the administration on Friday. The panchayat secretary has since been suspended in connection with the incident, he said.

Mr. Sakhamuri said that he would visit the Panchayat along with the Superintendent of Police M. Sree Abhinav for an enquiry.

The Therku Thittai panchayat has six ward members, including two belonging to the Adi-Dravidar community, while the others are caste Hindus.

Alleging that she has been a victim of caste discrimination ever since she was elected president in January, Ms. Kumar charged that Mr. Raj and three other ward members did not allow her to function independently.

“I was not allowed to hoist the national tricolour during the Republic Day in January. The panchayat vice-president said that his father would hoist the flag instead. He and three other ward members, all caste Hindus, insulted me and also forced me and another Dalit ward member Suganthi to sit on the floor during meetings while the rest sat on chairs”, she said.

Ms. Kumar alleged that she had not been allowed to occupy her seat at the panchayat office. This was the routine during the last three meetings and the reason they stated was that adequate chairs were not available, she said.

Ms. Kumar said that in the larger interest of serving the people, she had been bearing the continued insult and disrespect.

“The situation has now reached a level where continued silence would only strengthen their attitude and hence I have decided to speak out,” she said.

The panchayat meetings are convened only by the vice-president, who has been taking the stand that “I am a woman and know nothing and should remain quiet.”

She accused him of daring her to complain to any authority including the District Collector. “He said the officials would be least bothered”, she alleged.

When contacted, a senior official said that caste-based discrimination had been prevailing at the panchayat for some time. However, he dismissed the claims of the panchayat president that she was not allowed to hoist the national flag during Republic Day.

“The incident [being seated on the floor] happened a few months ago and the photo surfaced now and has gone viral. We have directed the Assistant Director, Panchayats to conduct an enquiry and lodged a complaint with the police to take action as per the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act)”, he said.


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Printable version | May 19, 2022 9:15:43 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/dalit-panchayat-chief-in-cuddalore-forced-to-sit-on-floor-secretary-suspended/article32819499.ece