Dalit village heads face double bias

CHENNAI, Mar 20 : They have been facing double discrimination - as Dalits and as women - in their villages since time immemorial. But that they do not regain their dignity even after being elected as the head of the village speaks volumes about the mindset of upper caste people.

Stories of such discrimination faced by Dalit women panchayat presidents were narrated at the fourth state-level convention of the women panchayat presidents held in the city, on Tuesday.

When Vasantha was elected president of Kelaiperumazhi village panchayat in Thirvaru district, with a predominant Dalit population, she found a villain in a Thevar vice president Tamil Arasi and her husband, who was the panchayat president of the village for 22 years when it was not reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates.

When Vasantha refused to dance to the tunes of those who were running the show earlier, they started to create problems for her. “ They refused to sign cheques, boycotted grama sabha meetings and used abusive language against me’, she said.

The high point came when they locked the panchayat office for four months during the flood relief disbursement and accused her of misappropriating the funds.

Vasantha lodged a complaint with the police. In the subsequent grama sabha meeting she was abused and was beaten up by the Thevar people.

Eventually, she was admitted to the Tanjavur Medical College hospital for a week. Vasantha said that her tormentors belonged to the CPM party. In Nagapattinam, in the Vanniyar- dominated belt in Mathavalur village, Ramamani, despite becoming the president, cannot ride on her moped when an upper caste person comes by. She is expected to get off the vehicle and walk.

Once when she did not get off her moped, she was pushed down and beaten up. Being called by the caste name ‘ Parachi’ is a common practice. ‘Why should we listen to a Parachi?’ is a common remark made on the many Dalit women presidents.

Out of the 12,618 panchayats across the state, 3143 are reserved for Dalits, of which 30 per cent of the positions are held by women.