An ugly caste confrontation that ironically played out during the Independence Day celebrations at a government school in Pulithivakkam village has escalated into tension between the two communities there, with the district administration convening a peace meeting on Saturday morning to resolve the matter. Now, an eerie silence is prevailing in the village in Kancheepuram 90 km from Chennai, where Dalits and caste Hindus clashed after Dalit students were allegedly denied participation in the Independence Day celebrations on the local government school premises.
On August 15, when the country celebrated the Independence Day, caste Hindu students allegedly objected to the entry of three Dalit students, Dinesh, Vignesh and Eetheshwar. They tried to enter into the Pulithivakkam Middle School premises where the I Day celebrations were going on. Disregarding the objections, the boys, along with a few others, sat on the compound wall to witness the celebrations. This led to an altercation between them and one of the Dalit youth was allegedly pushed off the wall.
“Things turned worse when the caste Hindus abused the Dalits using caste names,” said R Agasthiya Kumar, who was allegedly attacked by caste Hindus. This soon transformed into a clash between the two communities who gathered near the school after learning about the incident. Two persons were seriously injured in the clash. This brought curtains down on the programme halfway, and local police rushed to the spot to bring the situation under control.
The next day, students from the Dalit community skipped classes, and returned to the school only on Wednesday. The students complained to their parents that they were segregated on caste lines and classes handled separately. Opposing this, nearly 200 Dalits from the Pulithivakkam Adi Dravidar Colony that lies about one km away from the main village went on a protest, blocking the Maturantakam-Vedanthangal Highway.
Revenue officials and police intervened to pacify them and the crowd dispersed after submitting their complaints in writing. However, the caste Hindus, too, had filed a complaint by then, following which a case was filed against Dalits for allegedly attacking them, said a police official from Padalam station. Stating that he was unaware about this, village panchayat president P Shyamala Perumal said that conflict between the teenagers could have been easily resolved if they had approached the village elders.
“Now this has escalated on a different level, making it difficult for all,” he added. When contacted, school headmaster K Shankar denied giving any such instructions to segregate students on caste lines. “Some of the caste Hindu parents had instructed their children not to interact with Dalits after the issue. One of them said this publicly on the school premises while dropping her child, which was the main reason for the Dalit students to get offended.”
When enquiries were made with the Dalits and the panchayat president, they said that it was Veeramani, the one who usually organised school events, who had instructed the teachers to handle classes for caste Hindus separately. But Shankar, who was transferred to this school only last week, denied this. “I’ve never heard much about this Veeramani. No way he can instruct school staff to do so,” he said.
However, the caste Hindus have denied these allegations. Mahesh (name changed), who was at the spot at the time of the incident, said that it was only the Dalits who started hitting them during the argument. “We just retaliated,” he said. V Venkateshan, Revenue Inspector for the zone, said, “We are trying all means to resolve this issue through the peace meeting headed by the Sub-Collector at the Collectorate on Saturday.”