Pushed to the wall following decades of discrimination, a group of Dalits in Thirumalaipatti village near here have decided to set up a separate salon to cater to members of their community.
The dalit population of the village, numbering around 3,000, apparently kept off other salons in the area, fearing the fury of members of the caste Hindu community.
“We have been subjected to this type of discrimination for several decades. Our people cannot get a haircut at the salons in the village. Even if someone draws courage and offers to cater to the Dalit customers, the Caste Hindus immediately send them packing,” the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s (VCK) district deputy secretary S Vetrimurasu claimed.
Another resident, S Arul, alleged, “I run a business on my own. The barbers in the salons make me wait for hours till I eventually lose patience and leave the place.” Their repeated petitions to the district administration in this regard also fell on deaf ears. As Vetrimurasu put it, “We sent several petitions to the authorities including the District Collector. But they did not bother to take any steps to render justice to us.”
Finally, unable to cope with the discrimination and official apathy, the Dalits recently decided to work out their own solution appointing a hairstylist ready to cater to them. A shed was identified for this purpose and a barber, M Ponnusamy, appointed.
The VCK functionary said that the district administration also agreed to earmark a piece of land for putting up a shed at an isolated place.
Those from his community have now started mobilising funds to make it a full-fledged salon, he added.
When contacted, District Adi Dravidar welfare officer Ilango said, “We have been considering their plea for allocation of a plot for a barber shop. As far as the discrimination is concerned, the Dalits opt to visit some other salon.” This would mean that barber M Ponnusamy now has his hands full, especially on Sundays.
Ponnusamy said that there was usually a steady stream of customers from children to grown-ups lining up at his salon, keeping him clipping away from morning to evening on Sundays. “Around 100 to 150 people come here for a hair cut or shave. I don’t even find time for a tea break,” the barber said.