WALLS of caste bias and hatred, however mighty they are, will crumble and collapse if the oppressed sections resist them with the support of progressive and secular forces and the government responds to their protest. This was demonstrated yet again in Tamil Nadu on January 30.
In May 2008, a wall that segregated Dalits from other communities was removed at Uthapuram, a village in Madurai district (Frontline, June 6, 2008). The wall that met with the same fate this time was one constructed by some caste Hindus about two decades ago right in the heart of the industrial city of Coimbatore to deny 120-odd Dalit families access to a thoroughfare. The demolition was done by authorities following the intervention of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF).
U.K. Sivagnanam, convener of the TNUEFs district unit, said that caste Hindus had constructed the wall across the 30-foot-wide Jeeva Road which connected a colony occupied by members of the Arunthathiar community, named after Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, to the arterial Kamarajar Road. It was built soon after house site pattas were issued by the government to 58 families in the colony in 1989, he said.
To scuttle any attempt to smash the barrier, the caste Hindus had put up a shed with an asbestos roof near the wall. With the help of some activists of the Sangh Parivar, they also installed a Vinayaka idol in this shed, said Kovai Ravikumar, a functionary of the Aadhi Tamizhar Viduthalai Munnani (ATVM).
This was not the first attempt by the caste Hindus to prevent Dalits from using public roads in the vicinity. Earlier they had raised a wall across Netaji Road, adjacent to Periyar Colony. Although some of the colonys residents were able to demolish it 20 years ago, they faced a police case and were acquitted only recently, he said. Since then, they have kept a low profile. Even when the wall came up across Jeeva Road, they remained silent.
However, in the last couple of years, activists of the ATVM submitted petitions to the Collector and the municipal authorities on the issue of the attempts being made to curtail their movement but to no avail.
Things took a dramatic turn after a convention held by Arunthathiar organisations in Coimbatore on January 24 to express their gratitude to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for the initiative it took in persuading the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government to announce a 3 per cent quota for the Arunthathiar community within the 18 per cent reservation for the Scheduled Castes in the State. At the function, Ravikumar highlighted the issue of the caste wall and appealed to the leaders of the CPI(M) and the TNUEF to take up the matter with the authorities.
Functionaries of the TNUEF and the CPI(M) visited the spot and sought the intervention of the authorities, including the District Collector and the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation, Sivagnanam said. The State government advised the district administration to act without any delay.
A team of revenue, police and Corporation officials visited the scene and verified relevant records, which showed that the wall and the shed were illegal structures. The wall was demolished immediately by Corporation personnel using a digger and crowbars.
But some activists of the Hindu Makkal Katchi (Hindu Peoples Party) prevented the Corporation personnel from removing the shed and the idol, said K. Ganesh, a TNUEF functionary. He added that Arunthathiars had made it clear to the authorities that they would not object to installing the idol at a temple managed by them in the colony. Sivagnanam said the authorities were confident that an amicable solution to this issue also could be found through talks.
The concrete structure has been brought down, but there are walls of caste bias in the minds of some people in the district, Ravikumar said. He cited in this context the two-glass system practised at tea stalls, the separate graveyards, and denial of entry to Dalits in many temples in Thondamuthur, Madhukkarai, Pollachi (North and South), S.S. Kulam and Karamadai blocks in the district.
P. Sampath, State convener of the TNUEF, in a statement, welcomed the removal of the caste wall. He asked the authorities to provide an alternative place for the Vinayaka idol in order to enable Dalits to use the road without any hindrance.S. Dorairaj