The transferred Anganwadi workers, Anna Lakshmi (left) and Jothi Lakshmi. Image courtesy: The Hindu
Two dalit women, who were recently appointed as Anganwadi workers have allegedly been transferred from working in their own village by the local Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) office, following pressure from the dominant Mutharaiyar community in Valayappati of Tirumangalam taluk in Madurai district.
The district administration has denied the news of the Anganwadi workers being transferred to other centres and claimed that they have been deputed till the situation becomes conducive for them to work.
‘Children Won’t Eat Food Prepared by Dalit Woman’
The upper castes from the region have opposed the appointment of dalit women as Anganwadi workers, claiming that their children would not eat the food prepared by a dalit. This has created a tensed situation in the village, which was raging from the last week of April. Following this, the district collector (in-charge) paid a visit on Tuesday, June 11, as a confidence building measure. However, there has been no improvement in the situation yet.
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The two women, M Jothi Lakshmi and M Anna Lakshmi were appointed as Anganwadi worker and helper respectively, on May 3. When they visited the office of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) office the next day, they were informed not to join in their own village. The Mutharaiyar community people had opposed their appointment and demanded their transfer from the ICDS office. The administration yielded to the pressure and asked the two women to take charge in Mathippanur and Keehavaneri.
‘We are Discriminated in the name of Caste’- Workers
M Jothi Lakshmi, who has completed teacher training, while speaking to The Tamil Hindu said, “We are being discriminated in the name of caste. I am unable to work in my own village because I am a dalit. The administration has asked me to join in Mathippanur for which I have to walk 2km from my village to take a bus and further travel 10km to reach there. Large part of my salary will be spent for bus fare. I request the administration to ensure a peaceful working environment in my village itself.”
A mother of two children, Anna Lakshmi was quoted by The Tamil Hindu as saying, “I got appointment without any recommendation and that happiness didn’t last even for a day. We want to work in our own village; this discrimination in the name of caste should be stopped.”
The Madurai district secretary of the Tamil Nadu Anganwadi Workers’ Union, Varadha Lakshmi while speaking to NewsClick said, “Since the women are new appointees, they have not contacted our association so far due to lack of awareness. We are meeting them today and the association will take up the issue and ensure that justice is delivered to the affected workers.”
Temple Dispute Led to Anganwadi Workers Discrimination
Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) has alleged that a temple dispute among the dominant and dalit communities in the village has led to the discrimination of the newly appointed Anganwadi workers.
The state deputy general secretary of TNUEF, Chella Kannu told NewsClick, “There are around 300 families of Mutharaiyar community, 35 families of Arunthathiyars and 45 families Devendrakula Vellalar community. The Arunthathiyars and Devendrakula Vellalars are dalits. They used to hold worshipping rights in the Muthalamman temple of the village. After a break of 13 years, they were getting ready to participate in the temple festival on April 20. However, the people from the dominant castes were apprehensive of the participation of the dalits in large numbers and started to stop them through the temple priest.”
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He added, “Following this, on May 8 along with the other leaders of TNUEF and Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], the dalits from the village went to the police station for filing a complaint against the continuing discrimination. However, the Mutharaiyar community men attacked 24 houses and burned down 5 two wheelers of the dalits. Three men were injured and one person had to get 23 stitches on his head due to injury inflicted by the attack. We are sure that the opposition of the dominant caste to the dalit Anganwadi workers is a continuation of the dispute created during the temple festival.”
Other Forms of Caste Discrimination Rampant
The villagers also alleged that the dalit students of the government high school are forced to sit in the last row of the class rooms. They are not permitted to sit along with the dominant caste students. They also said that out of the three bath bays in the common pond, two are allocated for the dominant caste men and women, and the remaining one is used by the dalit people for bathing and to wash their cattle. They further alleged that dalit men are not permitted to use the bathrooms built near the pond. Also, drinking water is being distributed for only half an hour instead of one and a half hour after the temple dispute.
CPI(M), TNUEF, DK Call for Immediate Action
The state government instead of taking action against the offenders has chosen the path of yielding to the pressure of the dominant caste in order to keep their vote bank intact. While the major political parties are yet to react, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] and TNUEF leaders had visited the village immediately after the dispute erupted during the temple festival. The TNUEF along with Adhi Tamizhar Peravai have decided to conduct a demonstration on Tuesday, June 18, in front of the Tirumangalam taluk office for immediate action against such communal discrimination. The Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) has also called for action based on the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
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