Saturday, December 5, 2009

[ZESTCaste] ‘Protest’ yields immediate action as police nab intruder

'Protest' yields immediate action as police nab intruder
Woman IAS officer stages sit-in for Dalits' cause
M R Venkatesh, Chennai, DH News Service

Far away from the limelight, a quiet but firm 'dharna' by a woman IAS
officer, Siji Thomas Vaidhyan, in a remote village in Tamil Nadu's
Virdhunagar district expressing solidarity with the Dalits' plight,
has yielded immediate action.

For nearly four hours on Wednesday evening, Vaidhyan, did a sit-in at
T Veppangulam village near Virdhunagar, over 460 km south of Chennai,
until the police arrested an upper caste intruder who abusively sought
to intimidate Dalits at a peace meeting held there.

While the southern districts have been prone in the past for frequent
skirmishes between upper caste 'Thevars' and 'Dalits', this public
hearing to redress Dalits' grievances peaked a two-month effort to get
back 10-odd Scheduled Caste families to the village after they had
left in disgust.

"Whatever you may call it – a 'dharna' or a 'sit-in', I did this to
instill confidence in the village people, and we have to live up to
the word that the Government will act in unison in addressing the
Dalits grievances," Vaidhyan told Deccan Herald over telephone on

Nearly two months back, there was a photo-session in the village for
would-be beneficiaries of the recently introduced 'Kaliagnar Kaapeetu
Thittam', a new health insurance scheme of the DMK government that
provides access to high-cost medical care, mainly surgeries, to the
poor people.

People enlisting themselves under this scheme get a photo-identity card.
There was then a scuffle between some Dalits and upper caste Thevars
waiting in the queue, after which the SC families left the village.
Since then, the Virdhunagar District Administration has been
persuading them to return through talks at various levels, Vaidhyan

"We decided to have a public hearing at the village on December 2 and
address all their grievances," said Siji Vaidhyan.

The peace meeting went off very well and "everything fell into place",
she said. The Administration assured the Dalits that protection will
be given ro them if needed. The Thevars also wanted the Dalit families
to return.

However, when the meeting was almost over, an upper-caste intruder,
Manoharan, barged into the Panchayat Union Elementary School building
and "threatened the Dalits."
Vaidhyan said she immediately ordered Manoharan's arrest, who quickly
fled the scene. The police told her that they needed some time to
arrest him.

"But I took a stand that I will leave the village only if this person
is arrested," Vaidhyan said. Accordingly, she sat inside the school
waiting, along with a couple of other district officials, until the
police arrested Manoharan past 10 pm that same night.


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