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Dalits face discrimination in southern Tamil Nadu
Madurai | February 27, 2008 11:54:51 AM IST
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When young Raji, a Dalit, took her one-and-a-half-year-old son to the vaccination centre in her village in southern Tamil Nadu, the baby was denied polio drops. Two new studies have found that despite all the talk of equitable distribution of resources, the condition of Dalits in the region remains dismal.

The pulse polio campaign, for instance, is a free nationwide drive of the government meant to cut across caste and religion to eradicate polio. But if you are a Dalit like Raji, your baby can be denied even these life-saving drops.

Raji's family belongs to Keelavilanchampatti village in Sivaganga district, about 550 km south of Chennai.

After the child was denied polio drops Feb 10, an outcry in the local media made the police register cases against six people in the village. Raji's son was then given the polio drops under the hawk eye of the police.

But the story of discrimination was far from over.

Four Dalit families in this village, including Raji's parents, were given two acres of land under a government free-land scheme some eight months ago. The upper castes wanted the families to donate their land to the village, which the Dalit families refused to do.

As a result, the Dalit families and their relatives were boycotted by the village and not allowed to take even water from the village taps.

In Madurai district's Vadugapatti village, to bury their dead Dalits have to walk half a kilometre on a narrow bund strewn with thorns that separates an upper caste man's rice field.

"The thorn bushes were planted to prevent Dalits from touching the paddy crop," Muthaiya, 70, told local media.

"I want to be buried in peace. I don't want fights with big caste Hindu landowners over my body."

"Even to get ration, we had to get a separate shop. Upper caste people did not allow us to collect ration from the common village public distribution shop. There is always a fight if we try to do that," he added.

At a time when Tamil Nadu posts a seven percent growth rate and 75 percent literacy, stories of anti-Dalit atrocities continues to appear in the local media here.

On Feb 2, a Dalit girl, 16, was kidnapped from Kachirayanpatti village near Madurai and raped by an upper caste man. The girl's father, Andisamy, complained to police and the girl underwent a medical check up at the government hospital in Madurai, which confirmed rape.

But police took no action against the culprit identified by the victim.

The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front has done a random survey across 20 of Tamil Nadu's 30 districts, and is now preparing to launch a state-wide campaign to abolish manual scavenging, which still continues.

The Front's study found that eight million Dalit households lacked proper toilet facilities. Human waste is still carried here as "headload", the study said.

Releasing the study here last week, P. Mohan, Madurai MP, told the media 107 teams had surveyed the living conditions of Dalits in 47 villages in February second week and found all of them practise untouchability. "Discrimination comes in many forms and is practised in ways unknown before," the member said.

In Andarkottaram and Thaniamangalam villages, postmen do not deliver post to Dalits and barbers and washer-men refuse them their services.

In Uthapuram village, a 500-m long wall separates Dalit houses from the rest of the village.

The "double tumbler" system is in vogue, a practice by which Dalits are served tea/water in separate tumblers or coconut shells at teashops.

Dalits cannot join temple festivals, use footwear and their bulls cannot win in `jallikattu' runs.

A Madurai-based NGO, Evidence, this week released yet another study of Dindigul district that said, "Untouchability is practised in all 60 reserved administrative units (panchayats) in the district".

The Government Statistical Handbook 2006 inspired the study carried out by Evidence. The handbook had recorded 60 panchayats in this district as "atrocity-prone".

"This prompted us to look at the districts carefully," Evidence director A. Kathir told the media here. The Handbook says 538 villages in Tamil Nadu are "atrocity prone" and 152 of these are highly sensitive caste conflict hotspots.

After surveys in January and February, Kathir said, "Not just 500 but as many as 4,000 such villages exist in Tamil Nadu."



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