Saturday, September 18, 2004

Tamil Dalits await political empowerment


Sam Daniel


Saturday, September 18, 2004 (Chennai):

Four panchayats, reserved for Dalits in Tamil Nadu, have been waiting for presidents for as long as eight years.

The reason behind it is the upper caste community in the region, which does not allow Dalits to contest in the local body elections.

By-elections for these panchayats are scheduled to be held on September 27, but so great is the fear that not a single Dalit has come forward to file nominations.

Fear factor

One such case is the Papapatti village, which has not had an elected panchayat president for the past eight years. Although few Dalits did manage to contest the polls in the past, the upper castes thwarted this by making their puppet candidates win and forced them to resign.

While the ritual of holding election is conducted every six months, this time round not a single Dalit has filed nomination. Dalits say they are scared of the repercussions.

"If I contest in the elections, the upper caste people will attack my children and husband. They will ransack and destroy my house. This is what has been happening over many generations. So we do not contest," said Karuppayee, Dalit woman.

A similar situation prevails in four other panchayats of Tamil Nadu. The Dalits are a minority in these areas and they depend on the upper castes for their livelihood.

Mockery of democracy

The upper castes, on their part, say they cannot accept a Dalit as their president. They in fact want these panchayats to be declared as general constituencies.

"Either you declare our community as a scheduled caste or make this panchayat president's post open for all," said T Krishnan, upper caste man.

Development work in these villages has come to a standstill. And even after eight years, the government has not ensured that the Dalits are politically empowered.

Successive state governments have gone soft against the upper castes for political reasons. And as the objective of empowering Dalits lies unachieved, grass root democracy is turning into a mockery in these panchayats.

Source: NDTV, September 18, 2004

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