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Caste torment, from south to north Communist war against 'Berlin Wall'

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M.R. VENKATESH   |   Chennai   |   Published 30.04.08, 12:00 AM

Chennai, April 30: The former champions of the Berlin Wall are up in arms against it thousands of miles away in a Madurai village.

The 10-foot-high, 600-metre-long wall at Utthapuram was built to keep Dalits away from the upper castes.

A CPM team conducting a survey on discrimination against Dalits had stumbled on the “most oppressive form of caste divide” about 450km from Chennai.

Party general secretary Prakash Karat will “inspect the Berlin Wall” on May 7.

The visit, Tamil Nadu CPM secretary N. Varadarajan said, would trigger a “stormy protest” that would continue till the wall is pulled down.

For 28 years from 1961, the communist government of East Germany had allegedly shot dead anyone trying to cross over to West Berlin.

According to official records, 133 people were killed while trying to reach the other side. But the number could be more in reality.

At Utthapuram, however, the Dalits had neither complained against the wall, which is over five years old, nor tried to scale it.

But upper-caste residents had started bolstering the wall with a barbed-wire fencing on top — a throwback to the “iron curtain” between East and West Germany — possibly sensing trouble with outsiders coming to the village.

Nearly 5,000 CPM supporters staged a demonstration at Utthapuram yesterday against the wall and demanded the district collector’s intervention.

Karat’s visit, Varadarajan said, would have a symbolic impact on the protest against discrimination.

According to the CPM survey, in at least 40 Madurai villages, tea stalls have separate cups for Dalits. The barbers they go to cannot offer their services to others.

But the “Berlin wall type of caste divide”, Varadarajan said, was the “ugliest form of discrimination”.

“After Karat’s visit, we will speak to chief minister M. Karunanidhi and demand that the wall be pulled down.

“If no action is taken by the end of May, the CPM will take steps to demolish this wall,” the Marxist leader said after a meeting of the party’s state committee.

The CPM and its communist kin CPI support the DMK government from outside.

Several weeks of civil unrest had prompted the communist East German government to announce on November 9, 1989, that visits to West Germany would be permitted.

It triggered a rush.

Hundreds of East Germans scaled and crossed the wall to be joined by Germans on the other side in celebration.

Over the next few weeks, parts of the wall were chipped away by euphoric Germans and souvenir hunters.

Such euphoria is likely to be one-sided at Utthapuram, where a section of residents have shut out the others.

Madurai’s Berlin Wall, a CPM leader said, was not only meant to segregate Dalit colonies but also to ensure that the upper castes did not have to see them.

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