The ‘untouchability wall’ constructed between Dalit and Saliyar quarters at the W Pudupatti village in Virudhunagar district
SRIVILLIPUTHUR: An Uthapuram-like situation is developing in a small village at Srivilliputhur in Virudhunagar district following the construction of an ‘untouchability wall’ by a dominant co­mmunity there in the aftermath of violent caste clashes that rocked the hamlet on May 15.
Strongly segregated in terms of caste, W Pudupatti, near Sivakasi, has seen conflict and tension between the Naidus, Saliyars, Pallars and Paraiyars since the 1960s. The series of clashes, the latest between the Pallars (backward Hindus), numbering about 500 families, and Paraiyars, comprising 300 Dalit Christian families, was the result of a “hidden apartheid” prevailing in the village, rights activists have alleged.
Signs of the confrontation were visible in the Dalit settlement, which bore the brunt of the attacks, even after a fortnight. The clash reportedly broke out when a Dalit youth Jayaram Anthony (24) went to buy a mirror from a shop near a Pallar street and was threatened and beaten up by two Pallar youth.
Others joined the duo and indulged in stone throwing, damaging several Dalit houses. “They hurled more than 20 country-made bombs— in which college student M Prabhakaran was seriously injured on the foot—and set fire to a cattle shed,” R Inbam (45), a resident and former nurse, told Express.
Pointing to deep knife cuts on the front doors, she said the attackers also ransacked their houses.
Claiming that the State machinery was siding with the higher-caste groups, the villagers said after the incident, a wall, segregating the higher caste Saliyars and the Dalit quarters, was constructed under the supervision of the district SP and tahsildar. Official line: The new wall marked the boundary of a Saliyar-run school.
Describing the structure as an “untouchability wall”, the Dalits, however, said they had been using the path for several years without causing inconvenience or obstruction to anybody. They alleged that the real purpose behind the sudden construction of the structure was to cut off the main escape route for the Dalit men in the event of caste clashes, which have become an annual feature.
A life lived in perpetual fear, the status of Dalits in W Pudupatti reflects the general pattern—discrimination and abuse at the hands of higher-caste groups. Denied access to land, they roll cracker sticks for their livelihood.
“None of the development schemes introduced by the successive State governments has touched the 300 Dalit families in the village,” rights activist A Muniaraj said.
“The beneficiaries are all the higher castes,” he said, pointing to the well-laid roads, houses, drinking water and sewage facilities in their areas and the neglected Dalit quarters.
Nevertheless, academic forte appears to be the silver lining as well as the sore point. A Jayakumar (28), a B Ed graduate, said the higher-caste groups could not digest the development of the community through education.
It has also inculcated in them a deep awareness of their rights and intolerance to oppression.
“If the wall is not soon demolished, it will give rise to an Uthapuram-like situation and create frequent law and order problems,” the Dalit villagers said, adding that a petition had been sent to the chief minister’s cell.