Chennai, Oct. 7: Tears rolling down her cheeks, 38-year-old Muthumarai, a Dalit woman from Keezha Urappanur in Madurai district, accused Raja, a 40-year-old upper caste Hindu, of molesting her. When she threatened to take up the issue with the panchayat, Raja and his wife, along with others, threw “human faeces-mixed water” on her.
“What happened to me should not happen to any other woman in this entire world,” Muthumarai said, sobbing.
But it happened again, to Suganthi, a junior telecom officer and mother of two. Mediating in a marital dispute, seven members of the Valayappatti panchayat in Tiruchi district forced her “to prostrate before the panchayatdars countless times and then pay a fine”. They directed Suganthi to hand the children over to her husband and pay a fine of Rs 50,000 for “seeking a divorce”. The panchayat also threatened to excommunicate her along with her mother.
The incidents affirmed the findings of the first Human Development Report on Tamil Nadu, prepared with help from the United Nations Development Programme. The report said urbanised and literate districts like Chennai, Kanyakumari and Nilgiris showed “high values” for gender development vis-à-vis the overall human development index. But in rural districts with high levels of female illiteracy, like Dindigul, Pudukottai, Tiruvannamalai and Villupuram, the “gender inequality” is more pronounced.