A cremation-cum-burial ground built under the ‘Tamil Nadu Village Habitations Improvement (THAI)’ scheme in a hamlet in the district is in the eye of a storm over an ‘untouchability’ wall within the newly built facility separating the caste Hindu crematorium from the one meant for Dalits.
The crematorium was built at Anna Thoppu area of Konur village in Nellithoppu panchayat in Kovilur at a cost of Rs 7 lakh. The controversial wall cuts through the middle of the facility separating four neatly whitewashed concrete cremation sheds with two on each side.
It has two entrances; the one meant for caste Hindus has a concrete approach while the one for Dalits has a dirt road leading to it.
K Sundaravel, ward member of Nellithoppu panchayat who hails from Adi Dravidar Street of Konur village, told Express, “Even while construction was on, we opposed the ‘untouchability’ wall.
However, the Panchayat president said that the dominant community would otherwise oppose the construction of the cremation-cum-burial ground for the people of all castes, including Dalits, on one single site.” The two approach roads to the same complex bore the mark of the stratified society, he added.
Radhakrishnan, a Dalit resident of Nellithoppu, said there should be only one pathway to the cremation ground: the one laid with concrete.
When a resident of Adi Dravidar Street died last week, his body was taken to the complex through the path ‘allotted’ for Dalits. A relative of the deceased, who saw the wall, was furious and dismantled a part of it. A major portion of the wall, however, still stands. Ironically, a bill board displaying the details of the project clearly denoted the facility as one single unit.
The issue was taken up by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF). The Front’s district president K Abimannan, who visited the crematorium, petitioned the authorities to remove the wall. He also demanded that there should be a single approach road. “If the wall is not removed, we will launch an agitation,” he added.
When contacted, E P Sahul Hameed, president of Nellithoppu panchayat, said that the Dalits did not have a cremation ground. When the work commenced for the new facility, youth from the dominant community obstructed the work, he said.
“The work was recommenced only after a meeting was held by district council member Kulothungan, the then Block Development Officer, with the people of both communities,” he said, adding, “If the government directs, I will demolish the wall with my own hands.”.
When Express contacted K Varadharajan, Project Director, District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), he said the wall should not be there. “I will inquire into it and take necessary action,” he said.