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Hole in wall prompts upper caste exodus

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OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT   |   Chennai   |   Published 11.05.08, 12:00 AM

Chennai, May 11: Many upper caste families have left Uthapuram village in protest since a breach was made in the “caste wall” erected to segregate the Dalits.

These families from the Pillaimar caste have now spent six days in the open on the Thalaiyuthu’s foothills, about 2-3km from the village, braving the scorching sun and the evening downpours.

Some of their children have contracted chicken pox but the about 100 Pillaimars are resisting the Madurai administration’s requests to return home and help restore normality.

The families had left Uthapuram on Tuesday after the administration carved a 15-foot breach in the 2,000-foot wall — built 18 years ago to keep the Dalits out — a day ahead of CPM chief Prakash Karat’s visit to the village.

District collector S.S. Jawahar is talking to these families, who have set five conditions. One of their two main demands is a police outpost in Uthapuram, 450km south of Chennai, to protect them from the Dalits. The Pillaimars say the 10-foot-high wall was built after caste clashes claimed seven lives — a few from each side — in 1989.

The upper castes also want ownership of the land on which stands the village’s Muthalamman temple, from where Dalits are barred.

With the upper castes hardening their stand, the CPM has hinted at a pragmatic approach.

Since Uthapuram falls in a zone dominated by the OBC Thevars, who have not had the best of relations with the lower-placed Dalits, fears of an anti-Dalit backlash cannot be wished away. The DMK government, therefore, is eager for a quick solution.

CPM lawmaker Bala Barathi has praised the state government’s efforts to make a pathway for the Dalits while ensuring the upper caste’s “protection”.

She said the CPM would support the administration’s efforts. “It is one thing to campaign ideologically, but in practice several problems arise. One cannot entirely wish away the concerns of other communities.”



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