Untouchability is practised in different forms in Tamil Nadu even after 75 years of independence. There are tea shops which follow ‘twin tumbler system’, one for the upper caste people and the other for dalits. In some villages, dalits are denied access to water from common wells and ponds. Dalits could not even file nominations for years when the panchayats were reserved for dalits as per the rotation policy, in villages like Pappapatti, Keeripatti, Kottakachiyenthal and Nattarmangalam in Madurai and Virudhunagar districts. It took years for the upper caste Hindus to accept dalits as their panchayat president.
In a glaring example of untouchability, dalits of Ambedkar Nadar in Pakkupettai village in Walajapet of Vellore district have been facing discrimination in the name of an ‘untouchability wall’ build by upper caste Hindus of the region. On May 2, acting on a petition by a resident of the locality, the Sub Judicial Magistrate had ordered the concerned Tehsildar to demolish the wall raised in the encroached area and remove the gate hindering access to a temple which the dalits had been worshipping for the past 150 years. But no action has been taken so far.
The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, affiliated to the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, which has been fighting for dalit rights has announced its decision to hold a dharna on May 17 in front of the taluk office to protest against the inaction.
G Nagaraj, a resident of the locality had petitioned the Sub-Collector to arrive upon an amicable solution in the issue. The Sub-Collector, who is also the Sub-Judicial Magistrate (SJM) has advised both parties to approach the civil court to decide on the status of untouchability wall and ordered them to not involve in any further construction or demolition of existing structures around the temple in the public road.
Untouchability Wall Isolates Dalits from Upper Caste Residential Areas
Earlier, the construction of ‘Untouchability Wall’ in Uthappuram near Madurai to prevent dalits from entering the residential area of the upper caste people brought shame to the state of Tamil Nadu. The wall has existed in the area since 1989 after communal clashes erupted and the issue was brought to light by a study group set up by TNUEF. The government was hesitant to act against the upper caste Hindus owing to the vote bank politics. It required continuous intervention and struggle of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a visit by then General Secretary of CPI(M), Prakash Karat, for the government to demolish the wall on May 6, 2008. Now, the dalits of Pakkupettai village are suffering from a similar discriminatory practice.
Also Read: Dalit Man in Tamil Nadu’s Thiruvarur District Abused and Tortured by Upper Caste Men
Temple of Dalits Occupied by Caste Hindus
The dalits residents of Ambedkar Nagar were worshipping a temple for around 150 years. They take care of the day to day activities in the temple until the upper caste people decided to close down a public road leading to the temple and took ownership of the temple. They also managed to raise a wall around the temple, effectively denying access to the dalits. Agitated by the move, number of youth belonging to the dalit community demolished the wall for which cases of damaging public property were filed against them. After a legal fight, the cases against them were dismissed in October 2012 and the people expected that normalcy would be restored.
However, the upper caste Hindus managed to build another wall of 12 feet height and 3 feet width around the temple by the end of the same year. The dominant attitude of the upper caste people further increased the tension in the area.
Also Read: IIT-Madras, a Modern Day Agraharam?
TNUEF to Carry Forward Struggle Till Final Victory
K Samuel Raj, State General Secretary of TNUEF said, “The area around the temple was initially used by lorry drivers to wash their vehicles and perform pooja before starting a journey. The lorry owners who belong to the dominant upper caste slowly took control of the temple and denied the worshipping rights of the dalits. This is only a small victory for the oppressed people. We will fight along with the villagers till their rights are restored.”
“The official machinery is hesitant to implement orders which are in favour of the dalit community, whereas the orders against dalits are implemented ever so quickly. So, we have decided to hold a dharna in front of the taluk office on the 17th of this month to implement the order of the SJM. If the administration fails to take action we will announce a massive struggle that day itself. We will not relent till the order is implemented,” he added.
The negligent attitude of the administration and the governments in protecting the rights of the dalits has put them under severe social neglect. The dalit community continues to be exploited in different avenues. Now, it is up to the state and central governments to engage all stake holders to ensure constructive steps are taken to strengthen the laws so as to protect the economical and social rights of the dalits.
Watch More: 'Untouchable' Love: An Account on the Rise of Honour Killings in Tamil Nadu