Seventeen people, including three children and 11 women of A T Colony in Mettupalayam of Coimbatore district, were crushed to death after a huge wall constructed by a local textile shop owner belonging to a dominant caste fell down on the houses on the early hours of Monday. Four houses were totally damaged in the incident.
The 20 feet tall, 80 feet long and 2 feet wide stone wall was reportedly built to isolate the dalit settlement from the two-acre property belonging to the textile shop owner that incorporated his residence. It collapsed due to incessant rains in Tamil Nadu. The rescue operation took hours to end due to the huge debris covering the destroyed houses.
On Tuesday, Sivasubramanian, the textile showroom owner and owner of the house whose compound wall of collapsed was arrested on charges of causing death by negligence, a PTI report said.
A case under Indian Penal Code section 304 A (causing death by negligence) had been registered against him after the tragedy and he was arrested in Mettupalayam, about 45 km from here, where he runs the showroom, police said.
Later, residents of the area held a protest, leading to alleged brutal assault on them by the police in which the leader of Tamil Puligal Katchi, Nagai Thiruvalluvan, was manhandled and arrested. Several political parties and dalit rights organisations have condemned the administrative inaction on the wall for several years and the police action following its collapse.
DEMAND FOR WALL REMOVAL UNHEEDED
Since several years, the residents of AT Colony have been demanding the wall’s removal. They had submitted memoranda to the district collector and the municipal commissioner, stating that the wall was a threat to their safety. Their demand was not heeded, and had ended up claiming 17 lives.
K Samuvel Raj, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), affiliated to Dalit Soshan Mukti Manch, told NewsClick, “The partisan attitude of the administration in not listening to the anxiety of the oppressed class has ended in a terrible incident. Repeated representations from the community did not receive the attention the issue deserved. The owner of the house should be booked under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act since the wall was not built for protection but to isolate the dalits.”
The TNUEF also demanded the removal of a transformer, a fragile midday meal scheme building and Anganwadi building in the locality to avoid further mishaps.
PROTESTORS REMOVED ‘FORCEFULLY’
On Monday, the residents of AT Colony and dalit organisations resorted to road blockade in the Mettupalayam- Ooty road demanding immediate arrest of the landowner. The administration called for immediate burial of the bodies, against which the protestors resisted. The urgency of the administration further raised doubts over the “influence” of the alleged culprit.
“There was severe urgency from the administration to bury the bodies immediately. There was no one to receive the bodies, since all members of a family died in the accident,” added Samuvel.
It was also alleged that the administration and police opted to use muscle power to remove the protestors. Policemen in uniform and plainclothes were seen violently attacking poor dalit people on a day when they had lost many of their kith and kin, said sources, adding that some policemen were also seen punching, kicking and pushing the protestors.
Meanwhile, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader, M K Stalin, has condemned the police action and the “lethargic attitude” of the administration that is being held responsible for the deaths. The DMK leader called for immediate action against the police and accused the administration of being “controlled by vested interests”. Stalin also demanded that the government should build new houses for residents of the area.
Later, TNUEF leaders met the district collector and demanded a detailed enquiry into the incident. Many of the Opposition parties condoled the deaths and demanded justice for the affected people, even as the state government has not issued any statement yet regarding the incident. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, too, has not commented on the incident, attracting widespread criticism for the civil society.