CHENNAI: At Thokkamour, a village located about 50 kms from Chennai, near Gummidipoondi, Tiruvallur district, there is an untouchability wall. This wall has been constructed around the settlement of 200 Dalit families by caste Hindus. Now, with the families seeking demolition of the wall and demanding that the fencing of the poromboke land stop, they have been ostracised.
As the families’ protests prevented fencing of the poromboke land where the Draupadhi Amman Temple accessed by both Caste Hindus and Dalits is located, the Most Backward Community has issued diktats so others can stop interacting with Dalits, not engage them in work on agricultural lands, and stop supply of water to their crops. They have also been barred from using the village crematorium as part of the social boycott.
In January this year, M Rajendran of Thokkamour Colony said that caste Hindus decided to fence the poromboke land opposite their colony. “There is no open space in our colony. The poromboke land is the only place where we can move around and all the people use it. There is one pathway leading to the main road.
They suddenly wanted to fence the government land and put gates. If the fence was erected, our children going to school would have to travel a longer distance,” he said. He noted that the decision to fence the land came after an untouchability wall was constructed in 2016 to prevent them from using a part of the poromboke land. After the Dalits petitioned the Collector, RDO and Tahsildar, the fencing work came to a halt.
In peace meetings held at Gummidipoondi, the Revenue Divisional Officer passed an order against fencing the poromboke land and asked both sides to maintain peace. However, following this, caste Hindus started socially boycotting the Dalits. When asked about this, the Gummidipoondi Tahsildar said that he was not aware of any such boycott and would look into it.
However, T Mani, former president, Thokkamour Panchayat and DMK office-bearer, vehemently denied any caste-based discrimination or untouchability being practised at Thokkamour village.
Meanwhile, a caste Hindu leader of the village panchayat said, “We were simply trying to protect the centuries-old Draupadi Amman Temple land through the construction of the wall and fencing. We wanted to plant saplings of mango trees on the land and protect them through fencing.” When asked about the social boycott of Dalits, T Mani dismissed it as a falsehood spread by Dalits at the behest of the groups outside their village.
100-yr-old trees cut so that we won’t sit before caste Hindus, allege Dalits
Dalits of Thokkamour panchayat allege that they are facing various forms of discrimination, including denial of space for the children to play and rest under trees’ shadow. They are also staring at the whithering of their crops with caste Hindus refusing to supply water.
It all started about six years ago when the caste Hindus built an eight-foot-tall L-shaped wall abutting the Thokkamour colony on a poromboke land and placed broken glass pieces atop it so that no one will scale it.
Y Vinoth of Thokkamour Colony said they built the wall in 2016 making use of the differences among the Dalit people at that time, the colony people. “Even then, three women removed the broken glass on top of the wall. Women were brought before the local kangaroo court comprising of caste Hindus of Thokkamour, LR Medu and Edakandigai and they were insulted using foul language. They were forced to pay a fine and replace broken glass pieces at their own cost. Though we felt confined with wall limiting access to poromboke land located adjacent to the colony, we were not in a position to protest,” he said.
Last year, the caste Hindus started restricting us from playing volleyball and cricket on the vacant poromboke land adjoining the wall and even resting the grazing of livestock there, Vinoth said. “There used to be a huge mango tree opposite the entrance of our colony. Our people used to rest and children play under the shadow of the tree. But the caste Hindus did not like our people sitting beneath in the chairs when they pass by. For no reason, they felled the mango tree,” he said, adding later people used to sit under two 100-year-old banyan trees that too were axed down.
45-year-old S Murthy, one of the tenant farmers in Thokkamour village, is starring at the withering of his crop with the caste Hindu landowners refusing to provide water from their borewells. At least 10 families in the Thokkamour colony have rented about 12 acres of land from the caste Hindus and cultivated various crops like paddy, groundnut, millets and tapioca. Murthy said he has taken two acres of land for sharecropping before the fencing of the poromboke land. “I have planted groundnut on an acre of land and millets and tapioca on the remaining land. I have spent about Rs 50,000 so far,” he lamented.
With the caste Hindus refusing to even rent diesel pump sets, he said he had spent Rs 15,000 to buy a used diesel pump set to use little water available in the well to save his crop. “Other sharecroppers do not even have a well in their rented land. They are facing crop loss,” he rued.
Rajuvel of Thokkamour colony said that due to the boycott, the daily wagers in his locality are going to other village panchayats for work. “There were at least five deaths happened in Thokkamour panchayat but we were not engaged in cremating the bodies. They want to economically hit us by denying work,” he said.
When this correspondent and photographer visited Thokkamour, a group of caste Hindus engaged in a wordy duel and asked to delete photos of the temple, wall and fences for taking it without permission.
On the felling of trees used by Dalits, T Mani, former president of Thokkamour panchayat said trees were felled as per Vastu experts’ advice. “The location of the trees hampered the temple development,” he claimed.
CPM-affiliated Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front Tiruvallur district president E Ezhilarasan said they have submitted the petition to the district collector on the issues faced by Thokkamour Dalits last week after holding a protest in this regard. “If the district administration fails to remove the untouchability wall, we will launch a movement to demolish it,” he said.