The Salem Steel Plant police on Monday arrested T. Manickam, president of the Thirumalaigiri panchayat, in Salem district on charges of publicly abusing and threatening a youth belonging to the Scheduled Caste for going close to the sanctum sanctorum of the Periya Mariamman temple recently.
The arrest was made hours after the ruling DMK general secretary Duraimurugan suspended Mr. Manickam from primary membership of the party soon after a video clip of him abusing the youth, identified as Praveen Kumar, and making casteist remarks went viral on social media. The accused was also stripped of the post of the DMK Salem East’s south union secretary.
In the video, he was seen abusing and intimidating Mr. Praveen Kumar in front of a large gathering of villagers that included members of the dominant Most Backward Community as well as those belonging to the Scheduled Caste. Following the incident, the police were deployed in the village to prevent any untoward incidents.
Mr. Manickam claimed that the youth had entered the temple in an inebriated state and quarrelled with the people. “The villagers brought him before me the following day to make him apologise. I warned him not to do this while there were already many issues going on in the village. As I have a good relationship with the Dalit people, I took liberty and warned him. Some are trying to give a political colour to this issue due to the byelection in Erode (East) Assembly constituency,” he said.
“People, who term me anti-Dalit, should inquire with our village residents, especially the local Dalits, on how I am helping them and what the real reason behind the incident is. I accept the party’s action and will prove I am innocent,” Mr. Manickam added.
However, Mevai Shanmuga Raja, Salem district secretary of the CPI (M), an ally of the DMK, disputed his claim. He said Mr. Praveen Kumar had entered the temple on January 26. “When the panchayat president learned of this, he verbally abused the youth in front of the villagers the next day. When the police learned about the incident on January 28, they spoke with the Dalit youth and villagers and asked them not to make it an issue. Some Dalits also warned the youth after the police spoke to him,” he said.
On Monday evening, the CPI (M) functionaries, led by Mr. Shanmuga Raja, visited the village, spoke to the villagers about the incident and also visited the temple. Likewise, VCK functionaries and members of Dalit organisations also visited the village and spoke the youth and the villagers about the incident.
Demand for dismissal
The Ambedkar People’s Movement president, A. Annadurai, urged Salem Collector S. Karmegam to dismiss the accused from the post of panchayat president. The Steel Plant police on a complaint from Mr. Praveen Kumar on Monday registered a case under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and arrested Mr. Manickam, and took him to the police station.
Attempts to prevent arrest
A large group of people, including some Dalit inhabitants of the village, stopped the police vehicle and staged a road blockade near the police station. At that time, one Dalit youth, claiming to be a supporter of Mr. Manickam, doused himself in inflammable liquid but the police stopped him from setting himself on fire.
Police sources said after the investigations, the panchayat president would be produced before the jurisdictional magistrate and remanded in prison.
The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) Salem district president, R. Kulandaivel, said the organisation members would meet Mr. Karmegam to urge him to take the Dalit people to the temple on February 2. “If not, on behalf of the TNUEF, we will bring the Dalits to the temple on the same day,” he said.