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Waves failed to crack caste wall

Upper castes in Tamil Nadu are forcing Dalits out of relief camps and denying them aid.
PTI | By Agence France-Presse, Keshvanpalayam (tamil Nadu)
PUBLISHED ON JAN 08, 2005 08:37 PM IST

The Dalits of Keshvanpalayam thought they had seen - and survived - the worst after the tsunami hit their village on January 7.

But they had more coming their way: Upper caste survivors are forcing them out of relief camps and denying them aid supplies.

Kuppuswamy Ramachandran, 32, a Dalit, said that the fishing community (a relatively higher caste) didn't allow him and his family to sleep in a marriage hall because they belonged to the lowest caste.

"After three days, we were moved out to a school but now the school is going to reopen within three days and the teachers drove us out," he said.

The tsunami destroyed swathes of farmland and the Dalits, mostly daily-wage farmers, no longer have jobs.

At Keshvanpalayam, the Dalits had only flattened homes to show, while survivors elsewhere enjoyed relief supplies such as food, medicines, sleeping mats and kerosene.

No government official or aid has flowed into the village - 30 km from Nagapattinam - which houses 83 Dalit families.

Cranes and bulldozers cleared the debris of a neighbouring fishing community, but they are yet to reach here.

Chandra Jayaram, 35, who lost her husband to the tsunami, said her family has not received the promised government aid.

"At the relief camps, we are treated differently due to our caste. We are not given relief supplies. The government says we will only be given leftovers," Jayaram said.

S Karuppiah, field coordinator with the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, said that some villages, the bodies of untouchables were removed with reluctance.

"Dalits are given no help to bury their dead. They are given only alcohol to get over the stench," he said.

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