Tamil Nadu

Panchayat secretary, ward member arrested in Cuddalore for forcing Dalit president to sit on floor

Rajeshwari Saravana Kumar sits on the floor during a meeting of the Therku Thittai panchayat in Mel Bhuvanagiri block of Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore in July. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The Bhuvanagiri police on Saturday arrested Sinduja, secretary of the Therku Thittai panchayat in the Mel Bhuvanagiri block in Cuddalore, after it emerged that panchayat president Rajeshwari Saravana Kumar, from a Scheduled Caste, was forced to sit on the floor at panchayat meetings.

The police also arrested Sugumar, a caste Hindu and member of ward number 6.

Superintendent of Police M. Sree Abhinav said Sugumar was arrested after an inquiry. He had also threatened Ms. Saravana Kumar at the panchayat meetings, he said.

Ms. Sinduja was earlier suspended by Collector Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri following an inquiry.

A case was booked against Ms. Sinduja and panchayat vice-president Mohan Raj under Section 3 (1) (m) and (r) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Mohan Raj is at large, and the police have launched a search. Ms. Saravana Kumar spoke about the harassment and discrimination she had faced from caste Hindus, including Mohan 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.

Mr. Sakhamuri told The Hindu that the matter was brought to the notice of the administration on Friday. He said he would visit the panchayat, along with Mr. Sree Abhinav, for an inquiry.

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 had been a victim of caste discrimination ever since she was elected as the president in January, Ms. Saravana Kumar said Mr. Mohan Raj and three other ward members did not allow her to function independently. “I was not allowed to hoist the national flag during the Republic Day in January. The panchayat vice-president said his father would hoist the flag instead. He and three other ward members, all caste Hindus, insulted me and forced me and the other Dalit ward member, Suganthi, to sit on the floor at meetings, while the rest sat on chairs,” she said.

Ms. Saravana Kumar alleged that she had not been allowed to occupy her seat at the panchayat office. This had happened at the last three meetings, and the reason they had cited was that an adequate number of chairs was not available, she said. In the larger interest of serving the people, she had been bearing with the insult and disrespect. “The situation has now reached a point where continued silence would only strengthen their attitude, and hence I have decided to speak out,” she said.

The panchayat meetings were convened only by the vice-president, who maintained that that “I am a woman and know nothing and should remain quiet,” she said. She said he had dared her to lodge a complaint with any authority, including the Collector. “He said the officials would be the least bothered,” she added.

A senior official said caste-based discrimination had been prevailing in the panchayat for some time. But he rejected her charge that she was not allowed to hoist the national flag on Republic Day. “The incident [in which she was forced to sit on the floor] happened a few months ago and the photo surfaced now... We directed the Assistant Director, Panchayats, to conduct an inquiry and lodged a complaint with the police to take action under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” he said.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 4:01:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/dalit-panchayat-president-force-to-sit-on-floor-in-tamil-nadu-panchayat-secretary-ward-member-arrested/article32824244.ece

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