Dalit residents of Kaliappagoundanpudur, near Pollachi, have been waiting 15 years for a community hall to be built in their village.
They thought their wait of a one-and-a-half decades was finally completed when the Panchayat identified a 'poromboke plot' near a Ganesha temple in 2016. And the building of the hall seemed a sure thing when, last month, funds from the MLA Constituency Development Scheme were finally released.
But now, they are allegedly being prevented from constructing a community space on the chosen site because upper caste members and Hindu Munnani supporters in the village are afraid this will give Dalits access to the temple.
Since its construction in 1990, Dalits from the village have allegedly not been allowed to enter the temple's premises. In 2006, after the place of worship was renovated, they say, they managed to enter the area with police protection. This came after years of demanding that they be allowed to worship inside.
However, despite this revolt by 50 members of the Dalit community, things have gone back to square one, say members of the Dalit community. The temple gates are allegedly permanently locked except when priests enter to do morning and evening rituals. The gates are specifically opened if upper caste villagers are coming and swiftly closed again, they allege.
"There are about 15 cents of land near the temple. This is Government land and was particularly identified as a community hall. But the upper castes are scared that we will hold weddings there and soon even enter the temple," says Nagaraj, a resident of the village.
Members of the Dalit community have taken up the matter with the Commissioner, Collector, Sub-Collector and even the Tahsildar. Petitions have been submitted to the officials, regarding this blatant caste discrimination.
"We wouldn't have had this problem if the upper castes didn't constantly interfere in our matters. 40 years ago, the Adi Dravidar Welfare Board created an area for our people to stay," says Nagaraj. "Within the land reserved for us, we had enough space for a community hall. But members of the upper caste shifted people from other lower castes to the reserved site. There are already close to 700 Dalits at the site, so they had to stay in the area meant for the hall," alleges Nagaraj.
He has been at the forefront of this battle for the rights of the Dalit community members, and claims that the Collector promised to settle the issue in their favour. "The problem is that people like the District Development Officer have sided with the upper caste, and he is not giving the required orders," he alleges.
While the Collector was not available for comment, the Hindu Munnani has denied its involvement in the issue. "These allegations are completely false," says Dhanapal, the PRO of the group. "We have not opposed any community hall in the area," he adds.