THOOTHUKUDI: It seems political empowerment is just an illusion for these panchayat presidents even as the country marked its 75th Independence Day on Sunday. Six village panchayats in Thoothukudi district did not hoist the national flag on August 15 because the presidents belonged to the Scheduled Castes, it is alleged.
The panchayats in question are Villiseri panchayat in Kovilpatti taluk, Ayan Vadamalapuram and Ramanoothu panchayat in Ettayapuram, Ariyanayagipuram, Muthaiapuram and K Duraisamypuram near Nagalapuram panchayat in Vilathikulam taluk, according to the Ambedkar Periyar Marxists Unarvalargal Kootamaippu. The members of the association, consisting of Scheduled Caste and Tribes welfare activists, petitioned District Collector Dr K Senthil Raj in this regard on Monday. The latter has assured them that he would hold an inquiry into the matter and an appropriate action taken.
Advocate Beemaraj of the association said that the panchayat secretaries, who are supposed to organise the Independence Day celebrations, had remained largely lethargic from alerting the presidents, because the latter belonged to Scheduled Castes. The secretaries might have worked frantically, if the presidents were from the dominant castes, said Beemaraj.
Disappearing flagpoles of reserved panchayats
A civic body staff from Ayan Vadamalapuram village told Express that they did not hoist the flag because they had no flag mast at the panchayat office premises. President Jeyabal said that the flag pole was broken, and added that he would install one immediately.
Although Jeyabal, a class 5 graduate, assisted by his son, a B.Com graduate, denied any caste discrimination in the incident, although he said that flag was hoisted when dominant caste people came to power.
Sources from Villiseri panchayat, too, confirmed that the national flag was not hoisted at the panchayat office. The panchayat has neither a flag pole nor a tricolour, sources alleged. Meanwhile, in K Duraisamypuram village, sources told Express that a retired military personnel, belonging to a caste Hindu community, had hoisted the flag in presence of the Dalit panchayat president, Manjula.
She said she did not hoist it as she had to leave for a family function in Madurai. The schools in the village, too, did not invite her on the day, said Manjula, while denying that there had been any caste based bias in the village. Another SC president, wishing anonymity, said that she refused to attend the event as she was dishonoured the previous year.
Ki Veeraperumal of Tamil Puligal Katchi said that the panchayat vice-presidents, who happen to be caste Hindus, control the administration and use the SC president as merely a stamp. "It is a national shame as recognition for these presidents is still a question even as the country celebrates 75 years of Independence," he added.
Wherever SC panchayat presidents are there, there is no pole to hoist the national flag, observed A Shenbagaraj of Adhi Tamilar Katchi. He added that they are not invited properly to honour the event. "It is matter of concern."
Collector promises action
The Collector said that he would conduct a detailed inquiry into the case and take action. All panchayat offices would be checked for flag masts and it will be installed wherever absent, he added