Tamil Nadu

Dalit panchayat president alleges caste, gender discrimination in vandalism incident

In an alleged instance of caste dominance and misogyny in Krishnagiri district’s Athipaadi panchayat in Uthangarai, a newly constructed concrete base for a flag pole was vandalised by PMK cadre at the instigation of a ruling DMK functionary on Saturday. The desecrated base, still wet with cement, was to bear a plaque etched with the name of the first woman Schedule Caste panchayat president Sudha Kumar, a DMK member herself.

The vandalism took place hours after the construction of the base. Hoisting the national flag and presiding over the Gram Sabha on Independence Day, Ms. Sudha told The Hindu the flag base was constructed after the concurrence of everyone.

“The old pole was rusted and boys climb it to fasten the flag. I felt since it is the 75 th year of Independence celebrations, it would be good to have a new pole [with a concrete base]. The o oru gounder (unelected nominal village head) and others had agreed, and the construction began on Saturday. That same night, we got a call saying the ex-panchayat president Moorthy (DMK) and some PMK men were destroying the pedestal,” she said.

“This has always been an amicable panchayat. There have never been such incidents before. They clearly did not want a woman SC president’s name etched in cement and stone forever,” Ms. Sudha said.

When contacted, Mr. Moorthy, who is also the local DMK unit secretary, said he raised objections because a new pedestal was “unnecessary” as “there was already an old one.”  But, asked about what harm can symbolism do given this was the first Scheduled Caste woman president of the panchayat and how the DMK led government was speaking of social justice and equality, Mr. Moorthy denied his objection was masked with “caste supremacy.”

However, Kumar, the husband of Ms. Sudha, claimed that two DMK men along with the PMK cadre destroyed the pedestal, asking, “How can it bear the name of a Dalit panchayat president.”

Asked about the ‘camaraderie’ with the PMK, Mr. Moorthy claimed that he reached the spot only after it was vandalised. “I stopped them. We are all Vanniyars. We may be of different parties, but we are all kin,” he said.

An AIADMK functionary P. Kumar claimed that the new flag pole base would eat into the limited space.

In the wake of the vandalism, the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Uthangarai had called for a “peace committee” meeting between the two groups to avert a “law and order” issue.

When The Hindu asked Krishnagiri Collector V. Jayachandra Bhanu Reddy what was the need for a “peace committee” meeting when the objection to the new flag base was being alleged to be caste-gender discrimination, the Collector said, “Usually, flag poles don’t have a plaque and are left blank. But that is irrelevant. I will ask my officers to verify and take action if caste discrimination is the motive.”

Two days ago, Chief Secretary V. Irai Anbu wrote to all Collectors in the State to ensure that Scheduled Caste panchayat presidents are not prevented from hoisting the flag. The letter itself was in the wake of a report released by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Front that detailed the various forms of discrimination faced by Scheduled Caste panchayat presidents, especially women, doubly jeopardised by caste and gender.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2022 6:47:49 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/dalit-panchayat-president-alleges-caste-gender-discrimination-in-vandalism-incident/article65771453.ece