Thursday, October 20, 2011

[ZESTCaste] In Keeripatti village, the vote is all about caste

In Keeripatti village, the vote is all about caste
M T Saju, TNN | Oct 20, 2011, 05.22AM IST

KEERIPATTI: An old man is sleeping on a cement slab in front of the
main polling booth at Keeripatti, unaware of the commotion around him.
A posse of policemen has just rushed in after a scuffle broke out in
front of the polling booth.

A candidate allegedly was canvassing votes in violation of the model
code of conduct. And, he objected to the security personnel who tried
to shove him away. Senior police officials intervene and calm tempers.
But soon the candidate gets at the nearby hospital and the arguments
between poll agents continue late into the evening in the three
polling booths.

Welcome to the mess called election in Keeripatti. Polling was
peaceful here on Wednesday. A reserved constituency, Keeripatti has
six dalits in the fray for the post of the panchayat president. The
battle is intense with people divided on caste lines. Dalits, who
stress on their independence and identity, are ranged against the
non-dalits, who are more in number and are least pleased with the
reserved status of the constituency. With no reconciliation between
the dalits and non-dalits in sight, the tension in the village is
palpable. In the past, tempers have run high and non-dalits have been
blamed for not letting a 'true' representative of the dalit community
run the local body. The non-dalits are accused of wanting to have
their dalit nominee hold office.

The polling ended with 1,019 of the total 1,257 voters in the village
casting their vote. The high turnout, according to the non-dalits,
will ensure victory for their candidate, Mookakalai. A Thevar
stronghold, the village has 570 non-dalits and 109 dalit families.
Since the constituency is reserved for candidates from scheduled
castes and tribes, only dalits can contest. There are six dalits in
the fray, including sitting panchayat president Baluchamy. Mookakalai,
a dalit, has been handpicked by the non-dalits in the village to serve
as a dummy panchayat president, Baluchamy and others claim. They
allege that villagers were threatened that they will ostracised if
they vote for Mookakalai.

"We will vote only for our candidate (read Mookakalai). We have told
them so many times not to contest. We have the majority in this
village. So how does a dalit become a panchayat president here? asks
Eswar, a non-dalit, who works as a driver. According to Eswar, some
NGOs are creating problems in the village. "We don't have any problem
with the dalits. They live in a separate colony. We have told them not
to come to our side and we don't go to their side. But some NGOs are
blowing up the issue," he said. Baluchamy, the sitting panchayat
president, says they can't fight the non-dalits without somebody's
support. "We have been marginalised and sidelined for long," he says.

As the debate revolves around the assertion of identity, the
development issues have receded to the background. According to K
Velu, a non-dalit, the "real issues" are potholed roads and shortage
of drinking water.

"Our road is half-laid with full of potholes and humps. The work was
supposed to be over three months ago, but the president didn't take
any initiative. Also, we don't get drinking water regularly," he says.

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