The years of caste discrimination faced by the family of a 36-year-old Dalit man in Dharmapuri district culminated into physical aggression and deprivation last week. On Saturday morning, Arjunan, whose family owns six acres of agricultural land in the village of Dhanagutthalli in Pennagaram taluk, woke up to a metal fence surrounding their property, cutting off their access to paths through which tractors and lorries are brought to their land. The fence was erected by members of a dominant caste in their village who own land adjoining theirs. The three brothers who set up the fence were allegedly angered by the Dalit family’s ownership of a large tract of land and ability to succesfully grow multiple crops on it.
“When the fence was being erected, they promised us that they would leave space for vehicles to come into our land. But on Saturday, we woke up to see the work was complete and we were trapped in our own land,” Arjunan tells TNM.
With their direct path to the village cut off, relatives have been throwing groceries and water cans into their property, to help the family sustain. “We are unable to get out of this land. There is other agricultural land surrounding ours and it is not possible to walk through those. When we questioned the men who erected the fence, they abused us, used casteist slurs and said they will chop our limbs off if we try to leave our property,” he adds.
And this is not the first time Arjunan’s family has been forced to face such discrimination. His father, who passed away two years ago, had worked hard to buy the six acres back in 1991 and has since seen agriculture flourish on the land. Along with the land, he had also paid for the pathway through which vehicles can enter and leave the property. However, members of the dominant caste in the village continued to abuse the family and question if Dalits had the right to own land which previously belonged to members of their caste.
Sundaram, Sivakumar and Muthukumar who owned the adjoining land allegedly targeted the Dalit family constantly taking them to the Panchayat over small issues and abusing them constantly.
“In 2011, we were called by the Panchayat and they told my father he had to fall at the feet of all dominant caste members for daring to buy land that belonged to them,” says Arjunan. “My father didn’t want further problems and agreed to do it. He fell at everyone’s feet. But they still didn’t leave us alone,” he adds.
In the two years since his father’s death, Arjunan says the abuse has only increased.
“They threaten us with bodily harm if we leave our property. They are supported by other intermediate castes in the village but we have no one to talk for us,” says Arjunan. “We need the tractor to begin harvest and the lorry to transport produce. They have now cut off our access to both,” he adds.
The family managed to contact the local tahsildar on Sunday morning, following which she visited the property. She spoke to both parties and Arjunan says he has been told to wait for another two days within the fence.
“We are the victims, but we are being made to wait even further,” he points out. “The tahsildar said we can use the field behind us to walk into the village. But how will our vehicles come here?” he asks.
TNM has reached out to the district collector for comment on the discrimination faced by the family and is waiting for a response.