OCT 10 2020
Yet another case of a panchayat president belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC) being discriminated against by a dominant caste has surfaced in Tamil Nadu. S Rajeswari, president of the Vanniyar-dominated Therkuthittai village in Cuddalore district, has alleged that she was made to sit on the floor during meetings of the panchayat board by the vice-president ever since she was elected to the post in January this year.
As photos of Rajeswari sitting on the floor while members of the Therkuthittai village panchayat sitting on chairs during a meeting held on July 17 went viral on social media, the district administration swung into action on Saturday.
A case under various sections of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act has been filed against vice-president Mohanrajan and the panchayat secretary Sindhuja, who has been placed under suspension.
District Collector Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri and Cuddalore District Superintendent of Police M Sree Abhinav held discussions with the panchayat president and are investigating the incident.
As photos of Rajeswari sitting on the floor while members of the Therkuthittai village panchayat sitting on chairs went viral on social media, the district police swung into action on Saturday. A case under various sections of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act has been filed against vice-president Mohanrajan and the panchayat secretary.
“The President of the panchayat has filed a complaint on Saturday morning and a case has been filed. We are investigating into the incident and we will ensure strict action against those who have erred,” Cuddalore District Superintendent of Police M Sree Abhinav told DH.
The incident in Cuddalore district has come to light within two months of a panchayat president in Tiruvallur district near Chennai being not allowed to unfurl the national flag on the occasion of Independence Day. However, V Amurtham, president of Aathupaakam village, hoisted the tricolour five days later at the intervention of the district administration.
Speaking to DH from Therkuthittai village, around 240 km from here, Rajeswari said the vice-president never allowed her to discharge her duties as the president and even prevented her from hoisting the national flag on the Independence Day.
“We have had four meetings since January and in all the meetings I was asked to sit on the floor while the vice-president and four members of the panchayat belonging to the dominant caste sat on chairs. The fifth member from the SC community was also not allowed to sit on a chair. They want me to be inferior to them,” Rajeswari said.
The village consists of around 500 families who are mostly Vanniyars and 100 households from the SC community. The panchayat is reserved for SC community. Rajeswari’s husband Saravanakumar said the family did not muster the courage to speak out against the discrimination due to fear.
In his reaction to the incident, Chidambaram Lok Sabha MP, and Dalit leader Thol. Thirumavalavan said he has information that at least 10 panchayat presidents belonging to Scheduled Castes are being discriminated against by dominant castes in the villages. “Only a few incidents of discrimination against Dalit panchayat leaders come out in public. The dominant castes do not allow these leaders to function,” he said.
Thirumavalavan also demanded that the Tamil Nadu government take steps to check whether 2,800 panchayat presidents belonging to the SC community are able to exercise their responsibility and publish a “white paper” on the issue.
“But the incidents in the past few weeks forced us to come out and express our anguish. The vice-president openly tells me and my wife that we are inferior to him and should keep away from the village administration,” he said.
It began with Saravanakumar keeping the keys of the over-head tank of the village in his possession and the vice-president questioning the move. “We locked and the key was with us. But they used casteist slurs to attack us and get back the key. It is then we decided enough is enough and that we cannot tolerate anymore,” Saravanakumar said.