Monday, May 26, 2003

Dalits prevented from contesting polls

T M Veeraraghav

Monday, May 26, 2003 (Chennai):

Upper caste Hindus in south Tamil Nadu have ensured that a Dalit does not become president in the three panchayats reserved for Dalits'.

While the issue has even been raised by the SC/ST commission, the upper caste Hindus remain defiant and Dalit leaders blame the two main Dravidian parties for not protecting them.

Coercive tactics

For instance Saraswathi had tried to contest in the village panchayat election's in Nattarmangalam, but she failed.

Though it is a panchayat reserved for Dalits', and Saraswathi belonged to the community, she was threatened by the upper caste Hindu's. The threats have even left her scared to raise the issue in public.

For the last seven years, three panchayats near Madurai have not had a president as the caste Hindu's ensure that genuine Dalit candidates do not contest. And if they do, they are defeated by dummy Dalit candidates, who later resign.

In 1996, a Dalit Candidate was even murdered in Melavalavu, a nearby village. And this has left the Dalits even scared to talk of the elections.

"They are rich and powerful so what can we do," says Lakshmanan, local Dalit.

Defiant upper caste

The Commission for Scheduled castes and tribes has recently written to the Tamil Nadu government to ensure that polls are conducted in the region. It has even suggested stopping of development funds for these villages if the polls are not held.

But the caste Hindus, predominantly from the politically powerful Thevar community, remains defiant.

"Elections in the area will take place only when the panchayat is de-reserved," claims Vallachami, an upper caste Hindu.

Political bias

Dalit leaders blame the two main Dravidian parties for the current situation. They say both the DMK and the AIADMK have not taken a strong stand on the issue as it will anger their upper caste vote bank.

"Though the two parties are as different as a snake and a mongoose, when it comes to the issue of the Dalits, both are the same," claims Thirumalvalavan, Dalit Panthers Party.

And as yet another election date is soon be announced, the Dalits are skeptical and even the few who wanted to fight have now resigned. They say it will make little difference.

Source: NDTV, May 26, 2003

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