In another incident of caste discrimination, three elderly Dalit men were forced to fall at the feet of upper-caste Hindus over a discord at a temple festival at Ottanandal village which falls within the Tiruvennainallur block in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu.
The village holds a population of close to 40 Dalit families and more than 200 families belonging to other castes. On Friday, at the grama panchayat meeting, three elderly men were forced to prostrate. The video of the incident purportedly recorded by the upper caste men and shared on social media became viral.
According to sources, on May 9, the members of the Dalit community had organised a temple festival in their colony and in the following days the youngsters of the community had organised music and dance events coinciding with the festival. One Ramesh, a member from the Vanniyar community had taken video of these celebrations and submitted a complaint to the local police station claiming that the youths had violated the Covid-19 norms by organising a festival. The complaint was lodged despite the members of the Dalit community having apologized to the upper caste members not to make an issue of it.
The police officials visited the spot and seized the speakers, and other equipment used in the function. The next day, the Dalit men had gone to the police station and assured them that they won’t repeat the mistake, the police had left them with a warning and had returned their goods.
Under these circumstances, few of the Dalit youths had asked Ramesh why he made a complaint despite their request. This had led to an altercation and the grama panchayat was convened to resolve the issue. The leaders of the panchayat who belong to the upper caste community had asked the Dalit men to prostrate for their mistake.
The members Dalit community had then visited the police station and narrated the incident. The Vanniyar community had also lodged a counter-complaint claiming that the Dalit members issued death threats to them.
Villupuram district Collector A Annadurai, SP Radhakrishnan, and other officials visited the Ottanandal village and conducted further inquiries. Police forces were deployed to avoid any untoward incident.
The police said eight people belonging to the upper caste community have been booked under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and two of them have been arrested till now. The police have also booked 54 members of the Dalit community for issuing death threats and are further investigating the incident.
The women belonging to the upper caste community then staged a protest asking the police to initiate action against people who issued death threats to their community members.
VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan claimed only two members have been arrested and six members including Ramesh, (an alleged functionary of Pattali Makkal Katchi) are roaming free. “We call upon the police to arrest all culprits under Goondas Act and withdraw the false cases against Dalits,” he tweeted.
PMK founder Dr. S Ramadoss said the members of the Vanniyar community are innocent and they are made scapegoats and added that a team led by PMK’s legal wing leader K Balu will visit Ottanandal village and will submit a report in two days.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Pandian, founder of Dalit Foundation said caste atrocities have been on a rise during lockdown period. He added that the local police knew about the incident and they had kept quiet and now they are pressurised by the Vanniyar community to initiate action against the Dalit community.
“Caste atrocities are cognizable offence, the police can take action without complaint but instead of taking complete action against those men, the police have booked the members of Dalit community. They should have handled this better, the main accused Ramesh is still free. Also, there has been a deafening silence from the government. Even the Tribal welfare (Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department) hasn’t issued a statement till now, It is very unfortunate,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines