Dalits allege discrimination in water supply in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai
An overhead tank in a dusty village near Madurai in Tamil Nadu with separate valves for dominant caste Hindus and Dalits has sparked off a controversy with Dalits alleging discrimination. The government has refuted the allegations of discrimination.
The controversy comes less than a month after a Dalit man’s body had to be lowered from a 20-foot-high bridge over a river in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore to ensure it could be cremated after caste Hindus did not allow it to be carried through their land
According to Dalits of Kayampatti village, predominantly agricultural labourers, they have been forced to suffer this ignominy for the past 12 years. Not only the valve for them is separate, they do not get adequate water, they complained.
“The 30,000 litre Overhead tank (OHT) was built in 2007. However, from the day it came into operation, we are facing discrimination. The tank has three valves. While two are to cater water to the dominant castes, who are OBCs, the other one is to serve water to Dalits,” said A Janadeep Preethi, a Dalit woman of Kayampatti.
She further alleged that while the valves earmarked for the dominant castes do not have any locks, the one for the Dalits’ has a lock.
“Since the valves for the upper caste Hindus have no locks, they fetch water throughout the day. The OHT operator is opening up the lock of our valve only for two hours in a day – one hour in the morning and evening respectively. The 90 Dalit families are unable to fetch water in this short time. Though water leaks from the lockless regulators earmarked for the upper castes we could not fetch water from them,” said M Saravanan, a Dalit youth.
Kayampatti, a small village in Madurai east block has 200 families. While 110 families are upper caste Hindus, the remaining 90 are Dalit families.
Meenakshi, a 45-year-old Dalit woman, says that they have petitioned the Block Development Officer, Tahsildar, and District Collector many times. “But there has been no response from them,” she said.
On Monday, the dalits submitted a petition to Collector TS Rajaseker at the weekly grievance redressal meeting held at the district collectorate.
“We have ordered a probe. If untouchability is practiced, we will take prompt action,” Rajaseker told the media.
Meanwhile, a team of officials from the block development office visited Kayampatti on Tuesday afternoon and removed the lock from the valve for the Dalits.
“Dalits are residing in the elevated area of Kayampatti, while the dominant caste Hindus live in the northern part, a low lying part of the village. The OHT has three pipes with valves. While the middle pipeline is for supplying water to the houses close to the tank, the northern side pipeline provides water to upper caste Hindu households, 350 meters away from the OHT. Another pipeline and valve located on the western side is for catering to the Dalit area, which is 35 meters west of the OHT. We could not regulate water without valves. So, there is no truth in the charge of discrimination,” said S Ramar, Block Development Officer (BDO), Madurai East.
He further informed that they have ordered to remove the locks on the valves.
“Initially, we put locks on all three valves. However, only two have the locks at present. Since, one of them is on the valve regulating water supply to the Dalit area they are alleging it as discrimination. The middle pipeline also has a lock, and it is for upper-caste Hindus. But, none of them has raised any issue with that. Anyhow, we have ordered to break all the locks put on the valves,” the BDO told HT.
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