Uneasy calm in Chidambaram

By R.K.Radhakrishnan

CHIDAMBARAM, SEPT. 9. An uneasy calm prevails over many parts of Chidambaram, as the shadow of fear cast by violent incidents on the day of polling and later continues to haunt people in these areas.

Nearly 60 persons were treated at the Cuddalore

General Hospital- 30 Dalits and 29 Vanniyars-following the sporadic clashes since the day of polling, September 5. Of this, seven have been admitted with multiple injuries. Though there has been no violent incident in the past 24 hours due to enhanced police vigil, the slightest spark could breach the surface calm anytime.

In many village colonies, Dalits have gone without rations eversince the day of polling as fair price shops are located in Vanniyar areas. They do not step into the "village" for fear of being attacked.

The flames have died down in Dalit colonies in

Naduthittu, Poondiyankuppam, Kothandaramapuram, Tathakuppam, Ambalpuram and Kizhangadu villages, but Dalits said that an "unhelpful and communalised police force and vengeful Vanniyars had become a deadly combination" in targeting Dalit pockets.

Local dalit leaders are speaking of "consolidating" their areas; on the need for Dalits to move out of areas where they are sparse and live together in places where they are in a better position to defend themselves. But the idea does not have too many takers as the opinion of some Dalits in many of these affected villages reveal.

There was trouble in six places on the eve of polling itself-Vadakkumelur, Anukampattu (Kurinjippadai assembly) Manavalanallur, Naduthittu, Periyakotimalai, Alichikkudi (in Viruddhachalam). But even this was not taken seriously by either the District Election Officer or the police, despite complaints, said Mr. Sindanaichelvan, joint general secretary, DPI.

Most of the villages where the incidents occurred have a history of being "trouble spots" in the past too. The elections became an opportunity to settle scores. Police too subscribe to the fact that not all of these are election-related violence.

Dalits in some colonies spread over five of the six assembly segments of the constituency told this reporter that they were prevented from voting in many booths. In some places, their votes were already cast by the time they reached the venue. Dalits in colonies in Alapakkam, Suthukkulam, Ambalapuram and Ramanatham villages had almost the same version to put forth: "For all the past elections, we went away from booths when they asked us to go. But this time we wanted to vote for cycle (symbol). After the first couple of hours there was trouble."

In many places, including booths in Periyakuppam, Tangidikuppam, the modus operandi involved throwing out the DPI polling agents and then casting bogus votes. The first incident of violence occurred in Naduthittu, when miscreants set fire to huts in a dalit colony.

Local Vanniyar leaders in Poovanikuppam and Srinivasapuram (in Alapakkam union) said that they had been prevented from exercising their franchise by militant Dalits. "They had voted for many of us by the time we reached the booth. Anyone who tried to protest was beaten up. Luckily, the police behaved in a very non-partisan manner. Hence, we escaped with minor damages or injuries," said one of them.

In Anukkampattu, members of the Nadar community were not allowed to go anywhere near the booth, claimed a PMK supporter. Interestingly, this was one of the "trouble spots" pointed out by DPI itself. In Nochikkadu and Naduthettu, vanniyars said that they did not venture out to vote out of fear of being targeted.

"Our leader has directed us to remain calm till the second round of polling is over. We have instructions not to retaliate, even if there is severe provocation," the Cuddalore district PMK president, Mr.P.Shanmugham said. In an interesting fallout, the Thittakudi PMK town president, Mr.Chidambaram, announced his resignation from his post from the primary membership of the PMK. In a statement in Cuddalore, he said that since Dalits were prevented from voting in many places and they also targeted in many colonies, he was taking this extreme step.

Local Dalit leaders felt that the consolidation of Dalit votes brought about by the presence of the DPI leader in the contest, (though not to the extent they had expected it to be) was the reason for the violence. A more plausible explanation for the violence seems to be the direct challenge mounted by the militant DPI, hated and feared by Vanniyars, had to be met by the PMK.

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