MADURAI:Tension prevailed in Elumalai and Athankaraipatti villages after at least four vehicles belonging to Dalits from the latter village were torched by caste Hindus and few others were injured in a clash that broke out on Wednesday evening at a temple festival. The villages, located around 60 km west of Madurai, were celebrating the Muthalamman temple festival.
Police said that around 500 Dalits from Athankaraipatti, including women and children, had reached the entrance of Elumalai along the banks of Kanakankulam kanmai (tank) for ethir sevai, a ritual in which deities from Elumalai and Athankaraipatti meet each other.
Facing them, around 2,000 people belonging to different intermediate castes from Elumalai had gathered. As the ceremony began, police said that a few caste Hindus made abusive remarks against the Dalits, ridiculing their presence in the sacred rituals. While police and the caste Hindus claimed that the Dalits soon started throwing chappals, the Dalits of Athankaraipatti claimed that it was the caste Hindus who started pelting stones and abuses.
“We were in their village and they outnumbered us. How will we start pelting stones when many children and women were with us?” questioned P Karupaiya, the panchayat president of Athankaraipaatti. “We rushed back to our village, more than a kilometre away, leaving some of our vehicles,” he added.
The Dalits said that three motorbikes and a mini van carrying a generator were torched by the caste Hindus. At least three Dalits, including S Suruli, an elderly man and a Class XII student were grievously injured.
Police said the caste Hindus continued their rampage inside Elumalai, damaging two police vehicles and another vehicle belonging to the Peraiyur Tehsiildar. They also allegedly pelted stones at the Elumalai police station. The police resorted to lathi-charge to bring the situation under control.
Athankaraipatti villagers alleged that the situation flared up as the police presence was inadequate.
Karupaiya said they anticipated untoward incidents as caste Hindus were bringing up issues ever since the festival began on October 13. “We had petitioned the SP and Collector. They should have deployed more personnel,” he said.
Senior police and revenue officials acknowledged that their focus on Wednesday was mainly on the nearby communally sensitive Uthapuram, another participating village in the festival. The official however added that the situation was brought under control immediately.
Six cases have been registered, including three against caste Hindus on complaints by the Dalits and one against the Dalits on a complaint by caste Hindus as they claimed the Dalits pelted stones at them. Two more were booked on complaints by police themselves and the Peraiyur Tehsildar against unidentified persons. At least 20 persons, including three Dalits, have been secured so far.
A huge posse of police has been deployed in both Elumalai and Athankaraipatti with temporary check posts regulating entry to these villages.