Panchayat Raj failure : Caste-virus rules

10May07

Elected Dalit presidents of villages in several districts of Tamil Nadu are prevented from conducting their roles with dignity 

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Pico1:M. Muthukrishnan, president of Siruvai village in Villupuram district, who fled the village after being harassed by caste Hindus.

THE successful conduct of elections to panchayats reserved for Dalits in four villages in Tamil Nadu in October 2006 broke the decade-long defiance of a strong and substantial section of the people. The resolute action of the government, with the cooperation of several progressive sections of society, confirmed the maxim that with political will and administrative skill, the state can make even the seemingly hard nuts (in this case the rigidity of the caste system) crack (Frontline, November 3, 2006).

The bonhomie seen at the victory celebrations and the grand public honour that the State government in Chennai gave the Dalit presidents from Pappapatti, Keerippatti and Nattarmangalam in Madurai district and Kottakachiyendal in Virudunagar district a few weeks later generated hope that this was the first step on the strenuous path to empowering the underprivileged in other parts of the State. However, a series of incidents from different districts have belied these hopes and dampened the October 2006 spirit. From 2006, for the first time nearly 2,500 village panchayats were supposed to have Dalit presidents under the rotation system. (In the case of Pappapatti and the other three villages, the rotation system was not applicable because no panchayat governance was possible during the past two five-year terms, owing to caste-Hindu protest against reservation of presidents’ posts for Dalits.)

Hardly a month after the elections, P. Jaggaiyan, a poor agricultural worker who belonged to the Arunthathiyar sub-sect of Dalits and was the president of Nakkalamuthanpatti village panchayat in Tirunelveli district, was done to death for the simple reason that he refused to oblige his own deputy, the “upper-caste” vice-president, by being the president “only on paper”. Instead he made bold to expose the irregularities of the earlier regime led by the deputy’s wife (Frontline, December 29, 2006). A murder case is pending before the Special District Sessions Court constituted under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act).

In the same district, the president of Maruthankinaru village panchayat, M. Servaran, was found dead near his house on February 9 . From the beginning of his term he confronted the hostility of the “upper-caste” vice-president and her husband, who had sought to appropriate all powers and make him a dummy president. He was not even allowed to occupy the president’s chair, the local people reportedly told a fact-finding team of human rights activists. By April-end, the police were still investigating

———————–Continue Reading Frontline article



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