The Tamil Nadu police has passed externment orders against three caste Hindus arrested for promoting caste-based discrimination in an incident in mid-September where a shopkeeper refused to sell sweets to a group of Dalit children in Panchankulam village in Tenkasi district in Tamil Nadu.
The police invoked Section 10 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015.
On instructions from Asra Garg, Inspector General of Police, South Zone, the investigating officer of Karivalamvanthanallur Police Station, under whose jurisdiction the village falls, passed the externment order, which bars the arrested, Maheshwaran, Ramachandran, and Moorthy, from entering the village. All three belong to the Backward Caste Konar community. The police are on the lookout for a few others involved.
Asra Garg told Frontline that the move would play an effective deterrent against such abominable acts of caste discrimination. “We have told the court that the externment period will be for six months as of now. We can modify the order—either shorten or extend—at any time. All depends on how the accused conduct themselves,” he added. Revenue officials have sealed the shop.
The children had gone to the shop to buy sweets. In a video clip that went viral, the shopkeeper Maheswaran is seen refusing to sell sweets or other items to anyone from their street, where Scheduled Caste families live. He told the perplexed children, all between eight and ten, that it was the decision of the village panchayat and asked them not to come to his shop again. He also told the children to inform their parents. The confused children are seen leaving the shop disappointed.
The video created an uproar social media. The police took up the issue suo motu. T. Ramachandran, Sub Inspector of Police at Karivalamvanthanallur Police Station, preferred a personal complaint within an hour after the video clip went viral. The complaint was registered on September 16 at 9 p.m. by Inspector V. Hemalatha.
Ramachandran claimed that when he was on duty he happened to watch the clip on his mobile phone around 8 p.m. He lodged the complaint on his own since no one from the village had come forward to do so. Inspector Hemalatha registered a first information report initially under Section 153 (A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Later, after the initial investigation was completed, additional Sections were added. After a thorough enquiry, the police included Section 10 of the SC/ST Act.
History of resentment
Police sources said that there had been simmering discontent between the dominant Konars and the SC community of Parayars in the village over a dispute regarding kabaddi. “Two teams played kabaddi in the village with members drawn from both castes. But later, the teams were divided on caste lines. Since then there has been discontent between the groups,” said A. Kadhir of Madurai-based Evidence, a voluntary organisation, which carried out an on-the-spot inquiry a a few days ago.
In 2020 a minor skirmish took place between the two caste groups in which the police registered a case against a Konar youth named Ramachandran. He had recently applied for the Central government’s ‘Agnipath’ scheme and thought that the case would spoil his chances of getting selected. Hence, there was a move from village elders to persuade the complainant, a Dalit, to withdraw the case. But the request was apparently refused.
This reportedly infuriated the caste Hindus, who decided to carry out a social and economic boycott of the Scheduled Caste community.