The horrific tragedy in which 17 people were buried alive in Nadur village near Mettupalayam in Tamil Nadu after an adjoining 20-foot compound wall collapsed on their houses “due to incessant rains” is yet another reminder that disasters like these expose, sometimes blatantly and sometimes subtly, the uneasy caste dynamics in villages.
The wall was fortifying a bungalow belonging to an affluent textile showroom owner who is a caste Hindu. The adjoining colony houses 300 families of the Adi Dravidar or Dalit community. The wall was initially eight-foot high, but the owner erected this thindamai sevuru (discriminatory wall) to “protect the sanctity” of his premises, flouting all rules.
The deaths may have been caused by the wall crumbling after a continuous downpour that is said to have weakened the soil structure, but underneath the tragedy are the continuing discriminatory practices against Dalits. The oft-repeated occurrences of brutality begin with birth, go on in schools and do not even end in death. For instance, last month in Manalur village in TN, relatives of a Dalit had to knock the doors of the High Court to let them carry the dead body through the “common route” as they were denied access by a dominant caste group because they would “pollute the sanctity of the temple that was on the way”. The court ordered the body to be carried through an alternative route.
In Nadur, the Adi Dravidars settlement had repeatedly alerted the authorities about the menacing wall that towered over their houses, saying it was illegal and a threat to their life. But an accident had to happen for the authorities to predictably promise to look into the issue.
The deaths triggered protests, got statements of condemnation from politicians and pushed the media and social media into an overdrive with tragic pictures and sad stories. A few days later, this caste cauldron will resume simmering on low heat, waiting for another such atrocity to bring it to boil. The idea of the cauldron cooling down one day seems like a distant dream.