They want us to work under them, but won’t allow us to carry our dead: Tamil Nadu Dalits

The Udayars — caste-dominant Hindus in Periya Veeramangalam — prevented the Dalits from taking their dead through the village.

ByUmar Sharieef

Published Sep 11, 2022 | 8:21 PM Updated Sep 11, 2022 | 8:23 PM

Road in Chinna Veeramangalam

When 70-year-old Kanthaiya — a Paraiyar (a sub-section of Dalits) — from Chinna Veeramangalam in the Pudukottai district in Tamil Nadu, died on 1 September, one would have wished he would rest in peace.

His death, however, became a major headache for the Udayars — the caste-dominant Hindus in Periya Veeramangalam — the next day when the Dalits carried the dead body on the route that connects both communities and passes through Chinna Veeramangalam and Periya Veeramangalam.

As the tension swirled, caste-dominant Hindus opposed the passage and sat on the road, allegedly forcing the Dalits to wait with the dead until the police provided a solution.

“Most people of our community work for the caste-dominant Hindus. They employ us and take our energy, service, time, and everything, but won’t allow us to take our dead on the road familiar to all,” Mani, a Dalit tailor-shop owner, told South First.

Dalits waited 5 hours with the body 

Police in front of the dead

More than a hundred police, mostly trainees, occupied the spot to avert caste tension. (Supplied)

For many years, the Dalits in this village carried the dead on their shoulder via agricultural land to the graveyard. However, they decided two years ago to use the roads to break the stereotype.

That resolve was challenged last year when they tried to take one of their dead to the graveyard. The caste-dominant Hindus challenged the move, but ultimately yielded after the police intervened.

This time, they hired an ambulance to carry the dead, but caste-dominant Hindus stopped them again.

“They stopped us and scolded us using harsh words. The caste-dominant Hindus told us to use the other way and sat on the road. We refused to obey their terms and waited for five hours,” Mani said.

More than 100 police personnel — mostly trainees — had to be sent to the spot to dissipate caste tensions.

According to Mani, the caste-dominant Hindus argued with the police and demanded that they prevent the Dalits from taking their dead to the graveyard by the roads.

Police did no good for Dalits 

Mani told South First that caste discrimination in the village was so entrenched that the police officials didn’t stand on the side of the right.

Claiming that the police officials acted in favour of the caste-dominant Hindus, Mani told South First they allowed the Dalits to carry the dead in an ambulance with a restriction: They would not beat drums and sprinkle flowers on the way till we reached the graveyard.

The caste-dominant Hindus claimed that these Dalits’ traditions, along with setting off crackers for the dead, were acts of blasphemy.

No other way

Subramani, another Dalit villager, told South First that a new road built last year, which passes through a neighbouring village Perunavalur, is 3 km from the Dalits’ village to the graveyard. It is also “not in good condition to carry the dead in an ambulance,” he said, adding: “So, we were taking the dead by the familiar route”.

Choosing the new road would also create distress among the residents of that village, Lakshmi, another Dalit villager, told South First.

“Who would take the responsibility if the Perunavalur villagers stopped us from carrying the dead, and why should we choose that long way when we have access to familiar routes? Why are these caste-dominant Hindus bothered when we use the government road? Is it not for all?” she asked.

The villagers asserted that they would continue to use this route, and not carry their dead via agricultural land or the other ways anymore.

Karthik, a member of the caste-dominant Hindus, claimed that Dalits are trying to create caste tension by taking their dead through the familiar route.

No action or FIR 

Following the threats from the Udayars against Dalits that “we will attack Dalits with sickles if they carry the dead body through this route”, Palani, a relative of the deceased, filed a case against them for calling them by the name of their caste, restricting them from using the public road, and practising untouchability.

The local police officials registered the First Information Report (FIR) on 4 September. However, there has been no action from the police so far.

“Why didn’t the police take against the caste-dominant Hindus yet? Are they acting in favour of Hindus? What are they trying to say by calling us for a peace talk when they cannot take action against caste discrimination?” Bhagiya, a resident of Chinna Veeramangalam, asked.

Aranthangi DSP Dinesh Kumar told South First that the police were probing the incident, but refused to comment further.

Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare N Kayalvizhi Selvaraj didn’t respond to multiple calls from South First.