CHENNAI: Turf war over which religious symbol should adorn a hillock along Chengalpattu highway has fuelled a communal clash between caste Hindus and Dalit Christians of two neighbouring villages in Chengalpet 50 km from the city.

The hillock bordering these villages is now a sight in itself with over a hundred ‘namams’ (tilak) painted on it. A closer look reveals that these symbols were painted over the ‘holy cross’ which were painted earlier.

This overtly symbolised hillock bordering the two villages – Alagusamudram and Sogandi – in Chengalpet became the bone of contention after caste Hindus demanded removal of the statue of ‘Piatha’ (Mother Mary With Jesus Christ’s lifeless body in her lap) from the top. This led to a clash between Dalit Christians and caste Hindus, according to the locals.

Revenue authorities demolished the statue after caste Hindus from Alagusamudram protested, contesting that the hillock lies in their jurisdiction. Adding fuel to the fire, a Dalit youth was allegedly stripped, beaten up by the upper caste people recently. A strong sense of animosity is palpable at Sogandi with black flags hoisted in front of all houses and a strong police presence.

In this backdrop, Chengalpattu Sub-Collector V P Jayaseelan has convened a peace committee meeting for the second time in a week to pacify the situation.

Speaking to Express, Dalit villagers recalled a familiar situation five decades ago in Sogandi village when a violent clash with the caste Hindus led to bloodshed following which the Dalits resettled in the periphery of the village and got converted to Christianity en masse.

Incidentally, the caste Hindus from neighbouring Alagusamudram village with whom the Dalit Christians have locked horns were now more accommodative  compared to people in their own Sogandi village then, villagers recalled.

However, relationships begin to get strained in 2006 when the Dalit Christians erected a bigger statue of ‘Piatha’ on the hillock. A section of caste Hindus from Alagusamudram opposed this, fearing and suspecting conversion attempts.

Last year, during the Christmas eve, grand arrangements were made on behalf of the Dalit Christians to celebrate Christmas. Smaller statues and holy crosses were set up along the path to the Piatha statue and the hillock was illuminated with artificial lights.

Irked by this, on the day of Christmas in 2016, Alagusamudram villagers organised a protest along the Chengalpattu highway demanding removal of all statues from the hillock in ‘their’ limit.

Sub-Collector Jayaseelan held talks with the protestors and crowd dispersed after tahsildar V M Seetha gave in writing that ‘encroachments’ would be cleared at hillock.

Courtesy- Indian Express