Thursday, October 20, 2011

[ZESTCaste] For first time, Dalits of Madurai village vote in local body polls

MADURAI, October 20, 2011
For first time, Dalits of Madurai village vote in local body polls
D. Karthikeyan

They could vote freely in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections but had to
plead and fight for their right to exercise their franchise in local
body polls.

The Dalits (Pallars) of Gramapatti village in Kovilankulam panchayat
under Chellampatti panchayat union near here finally got to vote in
the panchayat elections for the first time in four decades.

According to a section of the Dalits, the local elite's dominance, in
the form of caste control by the dominant Piramalai Kallars, was the
reason why they never got a chance to vote. The Dalits could not be
assertive as they were dependent on the caste Hindus for work.

However, for the first time, the whole village, with a population of
200 belonging to 60 families with 71 votes, cast its vote at the
polling station in Government Kallar Middle School, Kovilankulam,
thanks to the efforts of District Collector U. Sagayam.

P. Deiva Lakshmi (28) of Gramapatti represented the injustice meted to
Dalits at the grievance day on October 10 at the Collectorate. The
Collector asked the Block Development Officer of Chellampatti union to
immediately look into the issue and make arrangements for the
villagers to vote.

"I really cannot remember the last time our villagers cast their votes
in the panchayat elections," said Ms. Lakshmi. "We also made an appeal
to the Collector to shift the polling station, which is five km away
from our colony, to the nearby village, which is two km away. Since
the arrangements were already made, it was difficult to change the
station but the officials promised to consider the request next time."

The village does not have a proper pathway. There is no ration shop
and residents have to travel six km to Nathampatti for buying
essentials. They do not have a cremation ground, street lamps, cement
roads or community hall.

P. Veeran (32), a construction worker, said that every time the Dalits
went to vote in the panchayat elections they were informed by the
caste Hindus that their votes had been cast in the "proper manner,"
and hence they could go back to the village.

The villagers, while feeling elated about the fact that they had cast
their vote, harboured the fear that they could be attacked any time by
the dominant castes for taking up the issue with the Collector and the
police, said Kasi Mayan, a social worker.


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