Monday, June 13, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Untouchability wall sparks tension in TN village

Tamil Nadu
Untouchability wall sparks tension in TN village
indianexpress Express News Service , The New Indian Express
Posted on Jun 11, 2011 at 02:15pm IST

SRIVILLIPUTHUR: An Uthapuram-like situation is developing in a small
village at Srivilliputhur in Virudhunagar district following the
construction of an 'untouchability wall' by a dominant co­mmunity
there in the aftermath of violent caste clashes that rocked the hamlet
on May 15.

Strongly segregated in terms of caste, W Pudupatti, near Sivakasi, has
seen conflict and tension between the Naidus, Saliyars, Pallars and
Paraiyars since the 1960s. The series of clashes, the latest between
the Pallars (backward Hindus), numbering about 500 families, and
Paraiyars, comprising 300 Dalit Christian families, was the result of
a "hidden apartheid" prevailing in the village, rights activists have

Signs of the confrontation were visible in the Dalit settlement, which
bore the brunt of the attacks, even after a fortnight.� The clash
reportedly broke out when a Dalit youth Jayaram Anthony (24) went to
buy a mirror from a shop near a Pallar street and was threatened and
beaten up by two Pallar youth.

Others joined the duo and indulged in stone throwing, damaging several
Dalit houses. "They hurled more than 20 country-made bombs— in which
college student M Prabhakaran was seriously injured on the foot—and
set fire to a cattle shed," R Inbam (45), a resident and former nurse,
told Express.

Pointing to deep knife cuts� on the front doors, she said the
attackers also ransacked their houses.

Claiming that the State machinery was siding with the higher-caste
groups, the villagers said after the incident, a wall, segregating the
higher caste Saliyars and the Dalit quarters, was constructed under
the supervision of the district SP and tahsildar. Official line: The
new wall marked the boundary of a Saliyar-run school.

Describing the structure as an "untouchability wall", the Dalits,
however, said they had been using the path for several years without
causing inconvenience or obstruction to anybody.� They alleged that
the real purpose behind the sudden construction of the structure was
to cut off the main escape route for the Dalit men in the event of
caste clashes, which have become an annual feature.

A life lived in perpetual fear, the status of Dalits in W Pudupatti
reflects the general pattern—discrimination and abuse at the hands of
higher-caste groups. Denied access to land, they roll cracker sticks
for their livelihood.

"None of the development schemes introduced by the successive State
governments has touched the 300 Dalit families in the village," rights
activist A Muniaraj said.

"The beneficiaries are all the higher castes," he said, pointing to
the well-laid roads, houses, drinking water and sewage facilities in
their areas and the neglected Dalit quarters.

Nevertheless, academic forte appears to be the silver lining as well
as the sore point.� A Jayakumar (28), a B Ed graduate, said the
higher-caste groups could not digest the development of the community
through education.

It has also inculcated in them a deep awareness of their rights and
intolerance to oppression.�

"If the wall is not soon demolished, it will give rise to an
Uthapuram-like situation and create frequent law and order problems,"
the Dalit villagers said, adding that a petition had been sent to the
chief minister's cell.

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