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In TN village, Dalits are forced to bathe with buffaloes

ERODE (TAMIL NADU), DEC 7: As its name suggests, Nagamanaickenpalayam, a village near here, is dominated by 200 ``upper caste'' Naicker f...

Written by K. Raju |
December 9, 1998

ERODE (TAMIL NADU), DEC 7: As its name suggests, Nagamanaickenpalayam, a village near here, is dominated by 200 “upper caste” Naicker families. Ironically, this is the same community to which the legendary Periyar E V Ramaswamy Naicker, the founding father of the Dravidian movement, belonged. But his “self-respect” legacy seemingly means little to the Naickers in this village beside the Cauvery, under Kodumudi town panchayat.

They recently denied the village’s 100-odd Scheduled Caste families access to the nearest government hospital at Kunnathur. Then, the Dalit women were told they could not use the bathing ghat but must go downstream and bathe where buffaloes do.

The bathing ghat was built by the previous AIADMK government at a cost of Rs 50,000 under the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana. When AIADMK panchayat union councillor Palanichamy was told of the Naickers’ diktat, he ordered the Dalits to use the ghat.

Encouraged by this “political backing”, some Dalit women ventured into the ghat last week, onlyto be threatened with sexual harassment and death. News of this spread like wildfire and indignant Dalit youths approached the nearby police station for justice.

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But, as Kodumudi police inspector Muthu Nalliappan was on leave, the Naickers blocked the attempt to file an FIR against them, and, on the contrary, persuaded a sub-inspector to register a complaint by them.

Meanwhile, the upper castes imposed a social boycott to deny Dalits essential commodities. V Venkatachalam, husband of panchayat president Vijaya, hurled abuse at Dalit youths outside the police station and, with the village milk society president, Magudapathi, blocked sale of milk to Dalits. Denied access to essential commodities through the Public Distribution System, Dalits now have to walk four km to Kodumudi town or two km to Noyyal. They are also barred from venturing out of their colony or standing on the main road. The eight-pillar mandapam, constructed by the panchayat union for villagers to gather, is also out ofbounds.

The local Communists took up the matter with the district collector and the RDO, who in turn instructed the Kodumudi police station to solve the problem. A meeting was held between the Kodumudi sub-inspector, Kodumudi VAO, DMK and MDMK members, deputy tehsildar, Malayampalayam inspector and five Scheduled Caste representatives. But the meeting simply reinforced the untouchability being practised. It was decided a separate bathing ghat would be built for the Dalits, who were told the social boycott would end only if they accepted their proposal. The Dalits walked out in protest.

But untouchability has been an ugly reality for the community for very long. For four decades, they have been denied entry into the Nagagoundenpalayam Milk Society. The society starts selling milk at 5 am and 4 pm, but Dalits are supplied only from 8 am and 7 pm. Besides, the milk supplied by Dalit milkmen is stored separately and sold only to Dalits.

Despite Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s project to erectsamathuvapurams, where all castes and communities can live in harmony, untouchability shows no signs of being erased from these people’s lives in modern India.

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