The shocking act of dumping faeces in an overhead tank that serves potable water to a Dalit colony in a village of Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district has yet again exposed the persistence of caste oppression in a State that claims to be the land of social justice.
The revolting act came to light after a few children and women of the Dalit neighbourhood in Iraiyur Vengaivayal village under Muthukadu village panchayat took ill on December 24, 2022. They were rushed to the nearby primary health centre, which referred them to the Pudukottai Government Medical College and Hospital, where the doctors told them to check the quality of the drinking water.
When the villagers inspected the overhead tank, they found the faeces floating in the water. A subsequent inspection by Panchayat and Revenue officials confirmed the contamination.
A villager named R. Kanagaraj, whose six-year old daughter Gopikashree was one of the victims, on December 26 filed a complaint with the Vellanur police, which registered a case against an “unidentified person” for this vile crime under Sections 277 (fouling water of any public spring or reservoir) and 328 of the Indian Penal Code read with 3(1)(b), 3(1)(x) and 3(2)(va) of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
While investigating the water contamination, the district administration came to know of certain other caste-based discriminatory acts in the village. Pudukottai District Collector Kavitha Ramu and Superintendent of Police Vandita Pandey were told that Dalit families were facing caste atrocities and discrimination at the hands of the dominant Mutharaiyars and Agamudaiyars, who belong to the Backward Castes.
When the Collector was informed that Dalits were denied entry into the village’s Sri Ayyanar Temple, she immediately took them inside. She also asked the police to take action against a tea shop owner who allegedly practised the double-tumbler system: one for Dalits and another for caste Hindus.
M. Sindhuja, a college student who lives in the colony, fell sick after the water contamination and was admitted to the Pudukottai Government Medical College Hospital. Speaking to Frontline from the hospital, she said: “The act of polluting the drinking water is an act of humiliation and shame for the entire society.” Madurai-based activist Vincent A. Kadir said: “What has happened at Iraiyur Vengaivayal village is beyond human comprehension. An entire Dalit community was forced to use polluted water.”
The perpetrators of the heinous crime are still at large. Strangely, the Vellanur police did not invoke the specific section of 3(1)(a) of the SC/ST Act that explicitly deals with such acts against Dalits. The section says that it is a crime to put “any inedible or obnoxious substance into the mouth of a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe or force such member to drink or eat such indelible or obnoxious substance”.
Since such acts are reportedly commonplace in many villages in Pudukottai district, the Collector has assigned a dedicated WhatsApp number for the public to alert district authorities about such atrocities in their localities.
Based on one such alert, two tea shop owners in Mangalanadu village near Aranthangi were arrested for practising the double-tumbler system.