“Burn them! No Parayas (Dalits) should be let off,” a mob of over 500 shouted on Saturday night while torching a dozen Dalit houses in Seshasamudram village in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district. The mob belonged to the politically-powerful Vanniyar community in the state.
The attack was over a long-pending dispute over the right of Dalits to take out a temple car procession on the main road of the village dominated by caste Hindu families.
District Superintendent of Police K.S. Narendran Nayar, who was among the injured policemen who had gone to the village after the attack, said the police have arrested 75 people, besides seven juvenile boys and 11 women for taking part in the attack. “More people will be taken into custody. We have apprehended some juveniles and arrested women, as we have strong evidence against them,” the SP told The Indian Express.
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On Saturday night, the entire Dalit portion of the village was plunged into darkness first — an eerily similar incident had happened in 2012 when 148 Dalit houses were torched in Dharmapuri following the suicide of a Vanniyar man after his daughter eloped with a Dalit boy — and then followed the petrol bombs and stones.
The mob also torched vehicles belonging to Dalit families. They didn’t even spare the livestock; the police found half a dozen goats had been slaughtered. Police said many in the mob, including at least 20 juveniles, were in an inebriated state. Several women were also reportedly seen collecting stones and bricks for their men to launch an attack on the Dalits.
The SP said at least a 100-strong mob also pelted the police team with stones, besides stopping them from entering the village. He said the police had to eventually fire in the air and then resort to lathicharge.
It all started with the building of Mariamman temple in the village by the Dalits after they were denied access to at least five temples in the village that are run by the Vanniyars.
“Taking the temple car procession of the Dalits along a 200-metre stretch of main road, which divides the houses of Dalits and Vanniyar families, started the dispute. After denying permission for almost four years, a decision to allow them (Dalits) the procession made the majority Vanniyars angry,” said a police officer.
Meanwhile, Kathir, the managing director of a Madurai-based human rights organisation called Evidence, visited Seshasamudram on Monday and said several Dalit women were abused in the attack.
“They were stripped and asked to run, leaving their children at home. The riot that started at 8.30pm went on till early morning, as the police failed to deploy enough force despite receiving information that there was communal tension,” he said.
The police are now searching for Subramanian, the village head who belongs to the Vanniyar community and is a functionary of Vijayakanth’s DMDK.