Campaign against Dalits contesting poll
By R. Ilangovan
MADURAI, SEPT. 23. The Melavalavu massacre has become an effective tool of intimidation at the hands of caste Hindus in many of the reserved village panchayats in Madurai and other southern districts, to prevent Dalits from contesting the local bodies poll.
A sly but vicious campaign, ``nurtured and sustained,'' by caste Hindus in the form of boycotting the polls, is being launched in many of these Dalit village panchayats. The spectre of Melavalavu, in which the village president, Murugesan, and his men were butchered, has been haunting Dalits.
``We are landless agriculture coolies dependent on them,'' says a 65-year-old Dalit in Madurai district. The distrust has been so well entrenched in their lives that Dalit women even refuse to allow their men to participate in any democratic exercise, which ``may be construed'' as an affront on the sovereignty of caste Hindus.
The militant caste Hindus of Keeripatti and Pappapatti reserved village panchayats in Usilampatti taluk in Madurai district have once again refused to elect Dalits as their village presidents. Angered by the decision of the Government to extend the existing reservation for local polls for another five years, the `local committees' have rejected the initiatives to hold elections.
The talks at the RDO level have failed. The adamant attitude of these villagers prevented the administration from holding the local bodies poll for these village panchayats, since 1996. ``The State has done a great injustice to us by not de- reserving our village panchayats despite our repeated requests in the last five years.''
``The Dalits are a minority here,'' claims the 55-year-old Mayandi Thevar of Keeripatti village, which has the notoriety of chasing away the officials who came to issue voter identity cards. The Dalits of these two villages are too fear- struck to participate in the poll exercise.
``We will never prevent any Dalit from filing nomination papers. But we will not accept him as president as it involves traditional temple honours and prestige,'' says Mr. P.K. Chellakannan, brother of Forward Block leader, Mr. P.K. Mookaiah Thevar of Pappapatti village. ``They themselves dislike the idea of contesting,'' he adds.
As a fall-out of this sly campaign, the Nattarmangalam village panchayat, which had a Dalit president in the last poll, has refused now to re-elect a Dalit. Also, the sordid drama of appointing a `puppet' Dalit president as in the case of Maruthankudi village, is getting unfolded in many other reserved villages.
Maruthankudi, which `selected' a Dalit president, banished him later from the village itself. He drives a tri-cycle in the streets of Madurai today, to earn a livelihood.