Nightmare for the `voiceless' minority

By R. Ilangovan

MADURAI, OCT. 10. Narasingam lives in fear. The 49-year-old Dalit farmer rarely ventures out of his thatched house in Karayanpatti hamlet. He has been provided round-the-clock police security for just `attempting' to file nominations for president of the Papapatti panchayat in the civic poll in the Usilampatti union in Madurai district.

The same is the lot of 45-year-old Saraswathiammal Chinnan, who also attempted to file papers for a reserved Nattamangalam village panchayat ward. Three armed police personnel, including an official in the rank of sub-inspector, are posted at her hut.

A morbid fear of death has kept the Dalit aspirants in the sensitive reserved panchayats of Papapatti, Keeripatti and Nattamangalam in the Usilampatti block, from participating in grass roots democracy. They are a minority and hence `voiceless'. At least, this is what they have been saying parrot-fashion to strangers, particularly, the media.

Narasingam failed to file his papers in time on the last date of nominations. He is not sure whether he will be allowed to file papers in the by-election for the Papapatti village panchayat scheduled for some time after six months. He puts the onus on the Collector. ``If he provides me security, I will file the papers. After all, you die once.'' But Karayanpatti, which falls under the Papapatti panchayat, is vertically split on the issue.

Most of the Dalits, he puts their number at 100 families, refuse to appreciate Narasingam's bravado. ``He is committing a grave sin which will only bring ills to our families'', bemoaned a 70- year-old Dalit woman of the hamlet. ``They feed us and there is nothing wrong in our obeying their orders'', she said. Narasingam's decision to contest has, however, stunned the Papapatti committee which mooted the election boycott call. Uneasy calm prevails in the village. An unwritten `diktat' has already been issued to the villagers, including the Dalits, to refrain from talking to strangers. By word of mouth, it has also been spread that villagers of all the three sensitive panchayats should ignore Narasingam's decision, `at least until after the elections are over', according to a social activist.

For Saraswathiammal, it is a nightmarish experience. A few tiles of her house were damaged as some `misguided youths of a dominant caste' threw few stones when they came to know that she attempted to file nominations. When she and four others went to the Chellampatti panchayat union office, they were `coldly' told not to file papers. The widow of a police constable, who underwent a course in teacher training, is apprehensive of the future of her family.

A mother of four children, Saraswathiammal is now reluctant to pursue the nomination. ``I want to live peacefully here. I am not interested in it''. She has been summoned to appear before the local committee for defying the village decree. The village will decide her fate tomorrow.

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Referred by:: Benjamin P Kaila
Published on:12 oct, 2001
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