Tamil Nadu: Dalits assert their rights

Print edition : February 22, 2013

Some Dalit residents of Kokkampatti village. Photo: A.Muralitharan

THE 64th Republic Day was a special occasion for the Dalits of Kokkampatti in Karur district. It was poetic justice that on this historic day, the caste Hindu residents of the village signed an accord with them to end the centuries-old practices of un-touchability and dis-crimination against Dalits, in the presence of the local authorities. Through the agreement the caste Hindus have promised to live in harmony with members of the Arunthathiyar com-munity, without dis-criminatory practices such as the ban on walking with footwear or riding two-wheelers. No discrimination would be shown at the Anganwadi centre and at the fair price shop, too.

Shortly before the agreement was inked, activists of various Dalit organisations and the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), along with the local Arunthathiyar residents, marched to Kokkampatti under the leadership of K. Varadarajan, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to register their protest against untouchability.

Though the Constitution guarantees equal rights to all, persons belonging to the Most Backward Thottiya Naicker community, who are in a majority, continued to discriminate against the socially and economically oppressed Arunthathiyars in the village, according to Dalit organisations.

The Arunthathiyars, who are mostly landless farm labourers or manual workers, have been treated as second-class citizens in and around Kokkampatti. Residents of the Dalit colony, including M. Eswari, a young Arunthathiyar woman, allege that they had not been allowed to walk wearing footwear on the streets where caste Hindus resided. They were also prohibited from using umbrellas in caste Hindu areas. Separate plates and tumblers were used for Dalit children at the Anganwadi centre. Arunthathiyars had to form a separate queue at the local fair price shop where priority was given to caste Hindus in the distribution of essential articles. Dalits were not permitted to cross caste Hindu areas on bicycles or two-wheelers. A separate tap was fitted to the water tank for Dalits. They were discriminated against in buses too. V. Subramanian, a construction worker, said Dalits were asked to perform menial jobs such as drum-beating at funeral ceremonies, grave-digging, and cremating the dead. Though their services were utilised during the Bagavatiamman temple festival, they were barred from worshipping there.

Things came to a head last December 25 when a group of Thottiya Naickers attacked G. Krishnamurthy, a Dalit youth, while he was watching the temple rituals from a distance. The “crime” committed by him was that he was standing there without removing his footwear, local people said.

As if they were not satisfied with the punishment meted out to him, the caste Hindus entered the Arunthathiyar colony late in the evening and assaulted some of the residents. The injured Dalits were admitted to the government hospital in Karur.

The local police booked a case on December 29 under Sections 341 and 323 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3(1)(X) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

After the accord was signed, Varadarajan declared that the struggle would be extended to other areas where untouchability prevailed.

S. Dorairaj

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