Kodikulam, a village located under the foothills of Yanamalai (elephant hill) near here, is a gifted place.
It boasts of an age old public well that provides tasty water round the year. People from far and wide throng the place with cans and drums to fetch the water home. But the Dalits of the village cannot dare even to go near the well.
“The SCs (Scheduled Castes) cannot go beyond this point,” says a 61-year old farmer, A. Akkniveeranan, pointing to a distance of about 150 metres away from the well. “They (Dalits) can ask any of us to fetch the water for them and we will oblige. But they cannot do it on their own. This practice has been there for ages and it cannot be changed,” he adds with no shilly-shallying.
The caste Hindus of the village, occupied predominantly by people belonging to Kallar and Moopar community, do not hesitate to talk about the discrimination of Dalits even to journalists. The well has been associated with four small temples built close to it and religious sentiments were given as a reason to keep the Dalits away from it. “They (Dalits) will not be spared. Honeybees will sting them if they try to go near the well,” says Packiam, an aged widow. Concurring with her, 26-year-old P. Suresh, a construction labourer, says: “The youngsters of our village will be in these temples all round the clock. Some of us even sleep here in the nights to prevent anyone from defiling this holy place.”
The well is surrounded by trees that are home to thousands of honeybees. Strangers must be careful while nearing the well as they might suffer a sting or two. The villagers have intentionally left the honeycombs untouched as it serves their purpose of discriminating the Dalits. “The bees do not sting us and we will not allow anyone to clear the honeycombs,” says C. Karuthapaiyyan, a 19-year-old youth.
A lawyer practising in the Madras High Court Bench here and residing at Othakadai near here says that he and many of his neighbours fetch water from that well for drinking.
They travel in two-wheelers to the village, which could be accessed either through the Government Agricultural College or from the Madurai-Chennai four-lane, and bring the water filled in cans.
“Once when I had gone there, some children asked me if I could give them some water to drink. I asked them why they don't take it themselves. They said they were not supposed to go there. Then, I understood and felt very sad for the poor children. This atrocity is being practised there for ages and nobody is able to raise their voice for the fear of earning the wrath of the dominant caste,” he says seeking anonymity.