Sunday, October 26, 2003

Dalits bear the brunt of dominant caste oppression

PONDICHERRY: The lives of the members of 50 Dalit families of Bhim Rao Nagar at Sompet village in Manadipet Commune run at the whims and fancies of the 'upper caste' Goundars.

They have to put up with several forms of humiliation every time they step into the Goundar-dominated areas. Interestingly, Goundars, are a backward caste themselves according to government classification.

There are about 1200 Goundar families and the Dalits live in a colony in the periphery of the village. They work for the former in sugarcane and paddy fields.

The unwritten code of conduct prescribed for the Dalits goes like this. They have to stand up if a Goundar walks by and when they venture out of their 'Pet' - as their colony is referred to by other castes - they should go barefoot and without a shirt.

"We have to bow while receiving the day's wages," says Raju, a resident of the Pet explaining the humiliation they have to face on a regular basis.

Though the 'two tumbler system' is not in vogue, the Goundars never give water or food to the Dalits in utensils or plates. "Even drinking water is not given in a cup; instead, it is poured into our cupped palms," said Kumar, another resident.

Earlier, the Dalits were are not allowed to enter the local temple though it is located quite close to the Pet. However, "after vociferous demand, they (Goundars) have decided to place the idol outside the temple for sometime during festivals for us to worship," Raju added.

"Unable to bear the oppression, the youths have formed an association called Vettri Tamilargal Ilanjar Narpani Mandram (VTINM) to voice their demands with the authorities," Raju said.

Things have improved slightly after this, but there has been a backlash too. Most of the Dalits are now jobless as Goundars have switched over to floriculture and they are unwilling to engage the Dalit menfolk.

"They employ women and children to pick flowers," said a member of the VTINM. The residents of Pet are entitled to one third of the revenue obtained from selling the produce from of the commune owned trees. This has been denied to them.

They have to bear the brunt of official apathy too. Though the 50 families live in patta land granted by the government, the colony is neglected by the local administration. The narrow streets of Pet have no street lights and the sewage drains remain uncovered despite repeated pleas with the commune panchayat.

A path to the cremation ground is also a long-pending demand of the Dalits. "Consequently, we carry our dead through the fields to the cremation ground," says Kumar.

Contacted, M D R Ramachandran, local MLA, claimed that he had provided all facilities to the residents of Bhim Rao Nagar. "I have taken all steps for the development of my constituency," he added. He refused to comment on the oppression faced by the Dalits.

Source:, October 26, 2003


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