Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Story of Untouchability Wall

Caste system is the bane of the Indian society. It divides and keeps the Indian society into sectarian groups and classes. The roots of the caste system are traced back to time immemorial days, the age of the Vedas or Puranas. While one view discriminates between the castes as upper and lower castes on the basis of their origin, another view traces the origin of the castes to varnas which classifies the caste system on the basis of their functions.

It is an irony despite of the growth of culture and civilization in the modern India still the caste system prevails and plays a predominant role in the Indian politics and society.

The Indian government, perhaps realizing the difficulty of eradicating the caste system from India, is providing the reservation system to the socially and economically backward castes in the educational institutions and in offering employment opportunities.

At the same time, the Indian Government has enacted laws to remove untouchability among the so called lower castes, by specifically declaring untouchability as a social evil, sin and a crime against humanity and God. It even prosecutes the offenders under the provisions of Untouchability Act.

While the differences among the caste system remain deep rooted, unscrupulous politicians exploit them to their best advantage in the course of elections and in fact the vested interests in politics want to perpetuate the caste system. Therefore communal tensions and clashes among different communities periodically occur and thereby the caste differences become deep rooted and the caste system gets perpetuated.

Recently in a remote village namely Uthapuram in Madurai District in Tamil Nadu, the caste system manifested itself in the form of a wall known as 'Untouchability Wall'.It separated the residential areas of two castes, the people of schedule caste on the one hand and the people of 'Pillaimar community' on the other hand.

In the year 1999,when the Southern districts of Tamil Nadu had the worst communal clashes, this particular village 'Uthapuram' also got infected with communal clashes,in which a number of persons died in both castes. Unable to bear the onslaughts of caste clashes, a few families of Pillaimar community deserted their village and went to Tirupur, a textile city, to eke out their livelihood and still they are residing there. The impugned 'caste wall' was raised to some distance by some Pillaimars in their patta land so as to prevent the invasion or intrusion or the free movement of the 'people of the pallar community' (schedule castes people considered by the upper castes as untouchables) who are living on the other side of the wall.

In March, 2008, the existence of 'the caste wall' or popularly known as the 'wall of untouchability' came into light in a popular daily through the efforts of a political party, CPI (M).It called upon the government to remove 'the caste wall' fixing a deadline, which led to dramatic events at Uthapuram village. The CPI(M), even threatened to remove the wall, if the government did not come forward to do it.

Immediately, the Madurai District Collector camped at Uthapuram village and held many rounds of talks with the Pillaimar community for the removal of 'the caste wall'.Led by their leader Mr.Murugesan, the Pillaimar community, called upon the government to set up a police station in the Uhapuram village so as to safeguard them and to have talks with them. On the instructions of the government, the District Collector dismantled a portion of the wall thereby paving the way for the movement of people on either side of the wall.

Protesting the action of the government, the entire Pillaimar community vacated the Uthapuram village and went to a nearby hill and camped there temporarily. Staying in the open chilly air affected the health of the young children with fever and diarrhea But the Pillaimar community refused to accept any medical help extended by the government and also refused to come back to their village until their demands were met. It was really pathetic to see thousands of people camping at the hilly tract in the open air and remained adamant despite of facing many odds and threats like illness, wild animals like jackals and innumerable venomous snakes.

After a week, one A.C.Shanmugam, a popular leader of a political outfit, managed to persuade the Pillaimar community to return back to their village, by arranging and fixing an appointment with the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for further talks.Now Uthapuram village remains calm without any communal problem.But the differences between the two caste communities are alive.

Thus the institution of caste remains a sensitive and volatile issue in India and time and again, it raises its ugly head, either in politics or society.

Source:The Deccan Chronicle (daily)

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