News Update 09/05/2003

An I-Day experience

ON August 15, when the nation was celebrating the 56th anniversary of
its Independence, the Dalit panchayat president of Chottathatti
village in Tamil Nadu's Sivaganga district was assaulted and
humiliated in public because he "dared" to unfurl the national flag
at the panchayat's official function.

In a petition presented to District Collector J. Radhakrishnan, the
victim, K. Rasu, said that after hoisting the flag at the local
school ground, he was making arrangements to hold the mandatory gram
sabha meeting when, all on a sudden, Subbiah, who belonged to the
dominant Mukkulathor caste, entered the scene and challenged his
right to unfurl the tricolour. "How dare you, a low-born, hoist the
national flag? How dare you sit in a chair at the panchayat office?"
the intruder shouted at Rasu and beat him with a chappal, according
to the petition.

When Subbiah attempted to attack Rasu with a steel chair, Rasu's wife
intervened and was injured in the process, the petition said. Others
who had gathered for the gram sabha meeting rescued Rasu from further
attack. The District Collector assured Rasu, who is in his second
term as panchayat president, of action. He visited the village and
ordered an investigation. The police arrested Subbiah and registered
a case against him under various sections of the Indian Penal Code
and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act.

Sivaganga district was in the news recently when the majority caste-
Hindu group refused to help enforce a High Court order that equal
rights be ensured to all sections of the people at a temple festival
in Kandadevi village. (Frontline, August 15, 2003)

A meeting organised by the Dr. Ambedkar Grama Uzhaikum Makkal Peravai
and the All India Democratic Women's Association against atrocities
on Dalits, at Thiruppuvanam in Sivaganga district on August 13.

There are reasons to believe that the August 15 incident was not a
sudden development, but a manifestation of `upper caste' prejudices
against Dalits and their intolerance of the moves to empower the
marginalised. In the fortnight preceding Independence Day, several
members of Rasu's family - his son, daughter-in-law and sister - were
victims of `upper caste' atrocities.

According to a complaint lodged with the police at Thiruppuvanam, on
the morning of August 3, Veluthai, Rasu's daughter-in-law, went to
the house of Mari, son of Mayandi, a relative of Subbiah, and
complained to Mari's mother that her son had entered her house the
previous night and attempted to rape her. She showed Mari's mother
the injuries she received. Incensed by the complaint, Mari's mother
attempted to assault her, Veluthai said in the complaint. Mari's
relatives beat up Veluthai and her husband, Sengai, who had
accompanied her, the complaint said.

The police registered a case and took into custody four persons.
However, Mari was not among them. The district unit of the All India
Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) staged a demonstration at
Thiruppuvanam in protest against the police ignoring Veluthai's
charge that Mari attempted to rape her. On Independence Day-eve, a
sister of Rasu was hit with chappals at Silaiman.

A fact-finding team, which included the secretary of the district
committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) M. Arjunan,
AIDWA's district secretary B. Damayanti, and advocate T. Kumar, among
others, visited Chottathatti and held an independent inquiry on
Veluthai's charges. Referring to Rasu's representation to the Deputy
Superintendent of Police at Manamadurai over the sex-related violence
against his daughter-in-law, the report says that the team learnt
from its investigation that Rasu, who represented to a police
official on the slow pace and inadequacy of the investigation
process, was insulted by the official, who, ironically, is in charge
of investigating crimes under the S.C. and S.T. Act. Arjunan said
that had the police taken swift action on Veluthai's complaint
against Mari, the incidents that followed could have been averted.

The AIDWA team's report also revealed that there was evidence to show
that untouchability was practised in the village and Dalits were
victims of caste-based discrimination in several respects.
Significantly, the report also said an influential section of the
caste-Hindu majority made a mockery of Dalit empowerment by refusing
to allow the elected panchayat president to function independently.


Dalit woman leader brings fame to panchayat with RWH
SEDAPATTI: Here is a panchayat where rainwater harvesting (RWH)
structures outnumber the houses. Aatrangaraipatti, one of the 31
panchayats in Sedapatti Panchayat Union of Madurai district, has
another distinction too.

It is led by a Dalit woman president, K Pappa, whose initiative
resulted in the successful implementation of RWH system in the
panchayat and turned it into a model for others to emulate.

With a population of 1,300, the panchayat __ comprising
Atrangaraipatti, A Kamatchipuram and Subbulapuram hamlets __ has 386
houses ranging from huts to concrete buildings, whereas the number of
RWH structures total 410.

Some of the houses have set up two RWH structures, while the seven
Government buildings, including PU office, PU school, Balwadi and
community hall, have standard structures.

Intense campaigning, including door-to-door canvassing and
distribution of leaflets, made RWH a big hit with the rural masses
here. An RWH info centre put up at the Sedapatti Panchayat Union
office at Aatrangaraipatti gave strength to the 'save rain water'

Interestingly, the RWH movement gained momentum after parai
sattruthal (announcement with tom-tom) informed villagers about the
need for installing RWH structures to recharge ground water level.

Thavasi, a PG Assistant in the Government Higher Secondary School at
M Kallupatti, who owns a concrete building, says: "We installed the
structures after Papa informed us about RWH's advantages."

Farm worker Ponnuthayi is not aware of the benefits, but says she was
guided by the Panchayat's advice to install a RWH structure for her
tinned-roof house.

A special three-day exclusive training on RWH for special panchayat
presidents at Maraimalainagar last month "was the eye-opener", says
Pappa who was one of the select 23 participants.

"After the training, I was determined to teach my people the
advantages of RWH".

She is modest though and says the credit for her success should go
the residents of the three hamlets. Subbulapuram has an assortment of
various castes while Aatrangaraipatti and Kamatchipuram are Dalit-
dominated hamlets.

After a successful RWH venture, Aatrangaraipatti panchayat is all set
to adopt sanitation and solid waste management projects, the prime
features of a 'clean village campaign'.

And in this, it seems to be following in the footsteps of S
Gopalapuram in Sengapadai panchayat of Kallikudi Union __ the only
village in Madurai district to earn the sobriquet 'clean village'.

CM seeks ST status for SCs in Himachal

SHIMLA: Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has urged the National
Commission for Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes to provide socio-
economic justice to the scheduled castes of tribal areas of Himachal
by conferring on them scheduled tribe status. Speaking to the
national chairman and other members of the Commission, who called on
him on Thursday, Virbhadra said that the SC population in tribal
areas were getting benefits of the caste they belonged to and not of
the area of which they were bonafide residents. Urging the
Commission to take up the matter at the appropriate level with the
Government of India, the Chief Minister said that Himachal Pradesh
was one of the few states where areas had been declared as ST areas
keeping in view the difficult geographical conditions. Virbhadra
also asked the Commission to declare various areas of Shimla, Kullu,
Mandi, Sirmaur and Kangra districts as tribal areas keeping in view
the geographical conditions, customs and culture, which are similar
to those areas that had already been declared ST areas in the state.
He said that despite bringing the matter to the Centre's notice, no
decision had been taken yet, even as the state government had
declared these areas as backward and formulated a separate backward
area sub-plan to facilitate their developmental needs by earmarking
specific funds.

Safai karamcharis, MC staff lock horns
Tribune News Service Bathinda, September 4
Tension gripped the local municipal corporation when activists of the
Nagar Nigam Safai Sevak Karamchari Union, supported by three other
associations, and activists of the Municipal Corporation Employees
Union raised slogans against each other over the issue pertaining to
the removal of pigs from city and the privatisation of sanitation in
various pockets of the city.While activists of the Nagar Nigam Safai
Sevak Union, supported by the Dalit Sena and District Congress
Committee SC and ST cell, staged a dharna in front of the municipal
corporation office in protest against the proposed plan of the
municipal corporation authorities to remove stray pigs from the city
and privatisation of sanitation of its certain pockets, activists of
the Municipal Corporation Employees Union started raising slogans
when the safai sevaks tried to stop Mr D.K. Tiwari, Commissioner,
Municipal Corporation, from coming out of his office.The situation
took an ugly turn when one of the supporters of the Safai Sevak
Karamchari Union stormed into the office of Mr Tiwari and asked him
to listen to the grievances of Safai Karamchari's while Mr Tiwari was
holding a meeting with other officials. Mr Tiwari told him to wait
for about half an hour and after which, he said, he would hold a
meeting with the representatives of the Safai Sevak Karamchari
Union.On this, activists of the Safai Karamchari Union started
raising slogans against him and sat on a dharna in the premises of
the office of the corporation. Following this, activists of the
Municipal Corporation Employees Union started raising slogans against
activists of the Safai Karamchari Union.The Safai Sevak Karamchari
Union was demanding that the Municipal corporation authorities should
have undertaken the removal of pigs from the city and privatisation
of sanitation of certain pockets after taking it into confidence. The
Safai Karamchari Union, Dalit Sena and District Congress Committee SC
and ST cell also submitted memorandum to Mr Tiwari.Mr Tiwari, on
being contacted, said tenders regarding the removal of pigs from the
city were to be opened today. However, the same had to be postponed
as the tenders could not be published in newspapers. He said some
vested interests had spread a rumour that the municipal corporation
authorities had been opening tenders for the privatisation of
sanitation following which activists of the Nagar Nigam Safai
Karamchari Union started a dharna.He added that now a sub-committee
of four officials of the municipal corporation, including executive
officer, municipal engineer, health officer and sanitary inspector
had been constituted to hold talks with the representatives of the
public and Safai Sevak Karamchari Union to find out the ways and
means to deal with the problem of pigs and insanitation.

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