Tension in Tamil Nadu village over wall demolition (Lead)

May 7th, 2008 - 1:21 am ICT by admin  

Madurai, May 6 (IANS) Tension erupted in a Tamil Nadu village Tuesday after the administration demolished part of a 20-year-old wall that segregated residences of Dalits and upper caste Hindus. A senior government official said late in the evening that peace had returned to the village and adjoining areas. District officials Tuesday made a breach in the wall in Uthapuram village, 400 km south of capital Chennai, to help Dalits avoid a 3-km detour to access basic amenities like primary health centres and bus routes, officials said.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had appealed for calm earlier during the day saying the government would call the army, if needed, to maintain peace.

However, district collector S.S. Jawahar told IANS late in the evening: “There is absolute peace in the region because we have taken all precautions in the entire southern Tamil Nadu.”

The village, dominated by a mixture of upper caste Hindu Pillais and Thevars, figured prominently in the news last week after a local daily reported about the wall. The report also sparked off rumours that the wall was to be electrified to prevent Dalits from crossing over.

The administration Tuesday made a 10-foot breach in the 500 metre-wall.

Speaking in the state assembly, Chief Minister Karunanidhi termed the wall as “a symbol of shame”.

“When people from all castes can enter any temple’s sanctum sanctorum, a minor breach in a wall of shame should not be too much for anyone to tolerate, as it can be useful to both sections in the village. To maintain peace, the government will not hesitate to even call in the army,” he said.

Reports of unrest were flashed by television channels after rumours spread that the police officials who accompanied the demolition squad were against the upper caste Pillais and Thevars.

This caused the upper caste men folk to flee to nearby hills, locals said.

Jawahar had said in an earlier interview to IANS that a revenue official was deputed to initiate peace talks between the Dalits and the upper caste sections of the village.

“Baseless rumours are being circulated to create communal unrest. The administration has taken steps to defuse the crisis by rushing additional police personnel, not only to the village but also to other vulnerable pockets,” Jawahar said.

Police sources said over 6,000 personnel have been deployed in the southern districts and nearly 300 men were posted in and around the village to maintain peace.

“Upper caste Hindus (comprising Thevars, Pillais and Nadars) and Dalits have been traditional rivals as the communities compete as share-croppers at government or temple-owned farmlands. The tension is understandable as the ruling party is identified as being anti-Thevar,” T.S.S. Mani, a human rights activist who has worked in the area for long, told IANS.

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