A fence seperates the Dalit colony from the rest of the village


Ganesh Nadar in Tuticorin, Rediff.com

A Hindu caste group has built a fence around a Dalit colony to prevent them from venturing onto their fields and using sanitation facilities. The reason: The SC community protested against their employers six years ago. Ganesh Nadar brings attention to the plight of 50 families from Velayuthapuram in Tamil Nadu‘s Tuticorin district

The road to Velayuthapuram is winding and in a very bad shape. The coastal village is far from the highway and few buses ply on this route.

Ponds that dot the road leading to Velayuthapuram are dry; the landscape is rocky. Clearly, there is little scope for agriculture. Borewells are deep and yet unyielding.

This village in the Kayathar Union of Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district has over 1,000 houses — most of them belong to the Rettiars, a class above the Dalits, and over 50 houses belong to the Scheduled Castes.

What comes as a shocker is that these 50 houses are enclosed in a barbed fence that separates it from other parts of Velayuthapuram. Cut off from the rest of the village, those in this colony lead isolated lives.

There is no road that connects to this part of the village and the situation has been the same for the last 30 years. The other part of Velayuthapuram has concrete roads.

The affluent Rettiars, who own all the agricultural land in Velayuthapuram, do not employ the Scheduled Castes. So they have to travel to other villages to find work. Most of them have found jobs in matchbox factories in Kovilpatti, which is 22 km away.

Even, the Rettiars employ labourers from neighbouring villages.

Even basic facilities like sanitation are not provided to them — all they have is a public toilet with no water in it. While this toilet is reserved for ladies even the men use it, as they dare not venture on to land belonging to the Retttiars.

There is a freshly painted tank with no water in it. The Dalits get water only two days a week.

Only one toiltet has been constructed for 50 families in the village and that too has been reserved for women

Image: Only one toiltet has been constructed for 50 families in the village and that too has been reserved for women
Photographs: Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com
Most Dalits are reluctant to talk to the media. Hesitatingly they said, “The last time a woman from Delhi had come with her television camera. The day after the broadcast, the police visited the village and were inquiring about who spoke to her. The deputy superintendent of police from Kalugumalaiquestioned us for 30 minutes. Now, that you have come the police will be here back again.”And as the villagers have predicted, the police did visit them.However, Dalits were not always disconnected from the village. The barbed fence came up six years back.Recalls a SC youth, who requested anonymity, “We worked in the fields belonging to the Rettiars and if we did not we were beaten up. But the last generation, to which my father belongs, did not like working for the Rettiars. They were intolerant towards us, but could not hit back as we were outnumbered. So, we turned to the police.”

The cops filed cases under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and arrested 10 men belonging to the Rettiar community. They were booked under the Goondas Act, which meant they could not get bail for a year.

The Rettiars were agitated and decided to stop employing the Dalits and prevented them from entering their fields. They simply built a fence around the SC colony.

The road leading to the Dalit colony in Velayuthapuram


Image: The road leading to the Dalit colony in Velayuthapuram
Photographs: Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

The Dalits turned to the then collector for help. “The collector told us, ‘You are only 50 families and they are a thousand. The MLA and ministers support them, as they are a larger vote bank. You will have to live in the fence; you can’t do much’,” recalled a Dalit man.

The protest against the Rettiars fell through.

Since then the Dalits have been leading an oppressed life on the other side of the barbed wire. And since the land belongs to the Rettiars no action can be taken against them.

“Most of this land belongs to Radhakrishnan Rettiar. He belongs to the Communist Party of India and it’s shocking that he has encouraged our seclusion,” said people from the SC community.

However, Palani Rettiar, the president of the panchayat, blames the media.

“The media has blown everything out of proportion. We are living here in peace for six years and you have come to disturb it,” he told rediff.com.

When asked about the lopsided development of the village where the Dalits did not even have access to road or water, “I am ready to consider their demand when I get the required funds.”

But he was mum on why the fence was built. “Six years back, I was working elsewhere, I really don’t know what happened here. But the barbed wires have been put up by individual farmers to protect their fields. The panchayat has got nothing to do with it,” said Palani Rettiar.

“The Dalits have voted for me and I will look after them. But I cannot do anything about the barbed wire as it is on private land.”