A PALL of gloom has descended on T. Kallipatti, a predominantly Dalit village in Tamil Nadus Theni district, where a 22-year-old Dalit priest committed suicide on December 7 after he was allegedly subjected to a witch-hunt by caste Hindus.
The Dalits of T. Kallipatti and several other villages in the district are agitated over the suicide of S. Nagamuthu, who played a major role in the renovation and maintenance of a local temple.
Demonstrations and road roko agitations were held in the area, seeking police intervention to bring all those behind the tragedy to book. Posters have appeared in some villages flaying the casteists who drove the youth to death.
Nagamuthu was the son of a farmhand. A suicide note purportedly written by him blamed seven persons, including three caste Hindus, for his death. Among them are some politically influential persons. Accusing the police of not providing security to him and his family, the youth said that he was ending his life to ensure the safety of his family.
Local residents felt Nagamuthu must have taken this extreme step as he was systematically sidelined by casteist elements, who debarred him from entering the Kailasanathar temple, built several years ago on a hillock near the village. It was Nagamuthu who took the initiative seven years ago to renovate the temple, which was in a bad shape. Apart from assisting a priest in conducting pujas, he himself shouldered the responsibility in the absence of the former.
However, shortly after the hill shrine was renovated a couple of years ago and devotees started visiting it, the temple administration members dropped Nagamuthu like a hot potato. They even advised him to keep off, particularly on auspicious occasions, as caste Hindus would be reluctant to visit the temple when a Dalit was present during ceremonies, the victims father, N. Subburaj, alleged.
Nagamuthu ignored the advice, and he was assaulted by some persons on May 5. The local police did not register a first information report though he lodged a complaint with them. Some caste Hindus, in connivance with the police, brought pressure on Nagamuthu and his family to withdraw the complaint.
However, Nagamuthu, with the help of the Madurai-based NGO Evidence, moved the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. Following a court directive on August 31, the Thenkarai police registered a case on September 2 under Sections 294(b), 323, 506(1) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3(1)(x) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. But the threats and intimidation continued. There was even a bid on his life, Subburaj alleged.
According to M. Andiappan, Oor Thalaivar (community leader), the village has a sizeable number of educated persons belonging to the oppressed caste. Several of them are traders, contractors or government employees, though farm workers form the major chunk of the population. As awareness among the Dalits has been rising steadily, they are no longer prepared to put up with the discrimination and insults.
As a mark of protest, Nagamuthus parents and relatives did not receive his body for five days. He was buried in T. Kallipatti village on December 12. The police have registered a case of abetment to suicide and arrested one person. Another accused has surrendered before a Madurai court.S. Dorairaj