A 60-year-old Dalit man who died on Wednesday was yet to be buried since the police refused to provide protection to the Dalits to carry their deceased through a street where people from dominant castes lived.

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court granted partial permission for the people of Scheduled Caste in Manalur Village near Manamadurai to use a public road to carry their deceased kin. The case was related to the obstruction of a common road connecting the village and the burial ground by the members of a dominant caste, mostly Kallars.

The incident concerns the residents living in Manalur village, around 30 kilometres from Manamadurai in Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu. The issue began on Wednesday, when 60-year-old Kandeepan passed away. The family, belonging to the Pallar community, categorised as Scheduled Caste, wanted to perform the final rites in their burial ground around two kilometres away. This burial ground, exclusive to the people belonging to the Scheduled Caste community, can be accessed through two routes. One is through the West Street (Melatheru) and Agaramjothipuram main road and the other one is by cutting across a national highway. There is also a third route which involves entering Melatheru and taking a diversion after it, without using Agaramjothipuram main road. The route, which requires people to cross the national highway, is longer than the one via Melatheru.

The people from the Scheduled Castes usually use Melatheru amidst heavy police protection. This time too, they approached the police seeking protection to carry their deceased kin through the street. However, the police refused to grant protection citing staffing issues. This pushed the family of the deceased to approach the court, seeking orders directing the police to provide protection.

In the affidavit filed by the nephew of the deceased, it has been stated that the members of the dominant community regularly obstruct members of the Scheduled Caste from carrying the bodies of their dead family members through Melatheru. Stating that it is illegal to block access to a public road, the petitioner sought the court to order the police to grant them protection to conduct the final rites of his uncle, who is yet to be buried.

The judge heard the petition on Friday during which the defendants submitted that there had been instances when dead bodies were carried through their street and the people who had accompanied the group had discarded the garlands and other materials on their houses and roads. They also added that they themselves use another path to get to the burial ground since there is a temple on the disputed road.

Hearing the arguments, Justice GK Ilanthiraiyan ordered the petitioner to enter Melatheru and use the diverted pathway to the burial ground and not through Agaramjothipuram route. The court also ordered to grant police protection to carry the deceased to the burial ground.

Discrimination rampant
However, this obstruction of path to the cremation and burial ground is nothing new for the people of the Pallar community living in Manalur village.

Speaking to TNM about the issue, Pandiarajan, a resident of Manalur and a Pallar himself, says that the members of the Kallar community (a dominant caste group in southern Tamil Nadu) blocked people from the Scheduled Caste from accessing Melatheru due to the presence of their temple. He, however, adds that untouchability as a practice is still rampant in their village.

“They don’t allow our folks to offer prayers (Molappaari — a pot of sprouts which are traditionally considered an offering to god) to the deity for many years now. Our caste people are also not allowed to participate in auctions that happen in the village. So, this is nothing new. We are around 100 families in the village and are a minority here,” he says.

Development of infra made things difficult
Pandiarajan explains that the other route to the burial ground requires the villagers to cut across the national highway. “Since the highway had iron bars on both the edges (access-controlled highway), it was impossible until recently to cross it. Earlier this year, the authorities made arrangements for us by breaking the bars in the road, facilitating access. However, that route is longer and we cannot take a hearse across it. We have to carry the deceased in a stretcher and cross the road. We cannot even give them a dignified farewell,” he says, describing the ordeal that they have had to undergo each time someone in their community dies.

Conducting talks is the norm
In January this year, the families of Pallar community in the village lost two of their kin. While one of the deceased was carried across the highway to be buried, the other one was taken through Melatheru, amidst heavy police deployment.

“It can be said that the problem is partially solved, but then why can’t we use a public road? Isn’t that illegal? This time also we approached the police to ask for protection,” says Pandiarajan, adding that the police refused to provide protection due to shortage of staff.

If the Pallars took the deceased via Melatheru without paying heed to the outcry from the members of the dominant communities, they would have to face threats. “Then the police will come and talk to the people from the dominant caste and let them be. They will just mediate. That is why this time we have approached the court,” Pandiarajan adds.

When TNM contacted the Thirupuvanam police, under whose limits Manalur village falls, Senthilkumar, the inspector said that he cannot comment on the issue now since it is in the court. “Usually the talks happen at the DSP level and hence I cannot comment on that,” he said. Attempts to contact the DSP of Manamadurai for a comment on the issue were not successful.

Courtesy The News Minute..