Madurai : Tension erupted in a Tamil Nadu village Tuesday after the administration demolished part of a 20-year-old wall that segregated residences of Dalits and upper caste Hindus. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi appealed for calm, saying the government would call the army, if needed, to maintain peace.
District officials Tuesday made a breach in the wall in Uthapuram village, 400 km south of capital Chennai, to help Dalits avoid a 3-km detour to access basic amenities like primary health centres and bus routes, officials said.
The village, dominated by upper caste Hindu Thevars, figured prominently in the news last week after a local daily reported about the wall. The report also sparked off rumours that the wall was to be electrified to prevent Dalits from crossing over.
The administration made a 10-foot breach in the 500 metre-wall.
Speaking in the state assembly, Chief MInister Karunanidhi appealed for calm.
“When people from all castes can enter any temple’s sanctum sanctorum, a minor breach in a wall of shame should not be too much for anyone to tolerate, as it can be useful to both sections in the village. To maintain peace, the government will not hesitate to even call in the army,” he said.
Reports of unrest were flashed by television channels after rumours spread that the police officials who accompanied the demolition squad were against the upper caste Thevars.
This caused the Thevar menfolk to flee to nearby hills, locals said.
District collector S.S. Jawahar told IANS that a revenue official was deputed to initiate peace talks between the two sides.
“Baseless rumours are being circulated to create communal unrest. The administration has taken steps to defuse the crisis by rushing additional police personnel, not only to the village but also to other vulnerable pockets,” Jawahar said.
“Upper caste Thevars and Dalits have been traditional rivals as both communities are share-croppers at government or temple-owned farmlands. The tension is understandable as the ruling party is identified as being anti-Thevar,” T.S.S. Mani, a human rights activist who has worked in the area for long, told IANS.