VILLUPURAM: Had the occasion not been grim, it would have been a heartening sight to see caste Hindus and Dalits joining hands together for a common cause. When sections from these two communities forged a union at Palapattu near Tindivanam on Monday, it reportedly turned out to be an alliance of oppressors against a marginalised community — in this case Irulas — whose crime was to attempt a renovation of their houses on a poromboke land.
Along a pathway leading to the village crematorium in Palapattu is a settlement of Irulas, housing nine families on a government poromboke land. Trouble started on Monday when one of the families decided to renovate their dilapidated house.
Murthy (30) and Durga (28), an Irula couple, had been living with their sons Mohanraj (8) and Dhanasekar (2) in a thatched hut that was way past its due date of repair.
When the couple started rebuilding the hut, Vaithyanathan (45), a caste Hindu man owning one acre of agricultural land adjacent to the poromboke land, along with his supporters, including a few Dalits, reportedly picked up a quarrel with them. The couple claimed that the group abused and attacked them, asserting that only they had rights over the poromboke land. Durga says that there are nine families, comprising 27 members, housed on the small tract. Over the years, lack of space and basic amenities has taken a heavy toll on them. Cramped for space, they had decided to renovate the hut, but all it managed to do was open the floodgates of abuse.
After the incident, she lodged a complaint with the Palapattu police, who registered a case and booked seven persons, including caste Hindus and Dalits. The officials were on the lookout for the accused, who have since absconded.
The alleged attack on the community is not an isolated incident, but part of continued oppression dating well over three decades. A brief respite came in 2014, when some human rights activists and Irula Welfare Association members tried to shed light on their plight. The intervention drew flak from the intermediate caste, and even from the Dalits in the village, who restricted the activists’ entry to the Irula settlement. However, the escalating tension sent the official machinery into an overdrive, leading to the Collector and other senior officials making a beeline for the village. With the village in spotlight, the officials made a slew of promises to address the Irula community’s need for basic amenities, and even made available electricity connection and drinking water supply. However, this reportedly did not go down well with the caste Hindus and Dalits, who contended when they themselves were not getting such facilities, the minority Irulas could not get access to them. The result was that the Irulas’ access to road, drinking water and even power supply was restricted.
When contacted, Tindivanam tahsildar Mathiazhagan said, “Efforts were made to give the community access to all the amenities, except patta, as we do not have enough vacant land to contribute to the Irulas. We are searching for a suitable site, and once it is decided, they would be relocated,” he added.