A picture of a woman Panchayat President sitting on the floor during a meeting went viral recently. Rajeshwari, the Therukuthittai Panchayat President in Cuddalore district, who belongs to the Adi Dravidar community (categorised as Scheduled Caste) was forced to sit on the floor by Mohan, the Vice President of the Panchayat and a caste Hindu. Mohan allegedly refused to conduct the meeting until Rajeshwari sat on the floor. The incident took place on July 12.
On Saturday, the Panchayat President, Rajeshwari, lodged a complaint with the Bhuvanagiri police after the picture went viral. The police have registered a case against the Panchayat Vice President, Mohan, under sections of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Panchayat Secretary Sindhuja has also been arrested by the police. The district administration has also issued a show cause notice to Mohan since he is still absconding, said Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri Cuddalore Collector.
Rajeshwari has reportedly been discriminated against since she took oath as the Panchayat President last December. “The Panchayat Vice President used to tell her that she is the only Dalit leader while he has a majority of BC [Backward Class] and MBC [Most Backward Class] members. Rajeshwari won by a huge margin but she was still cornered for being the only Dalit leader. He used to say ‘I have the support of five ward members but you do not have any,’” alleged Saravana Kumar, Rajeshwari’s husband to TNM.
The numerical strength of the caste Hindu members in the panchayat was also the reason that they did not file a complaint with the police earlier, said Saravana Kumar. “The caste Hindu leaders said that they will remove her from the post for not obeying them. Since they form a majority, he said they will bring a no-confidence motion against her. Fearing all this, we refrained from giving an official complaint,” he alleged.
Saravana alleged that Mohan had threatened Rajeshwari that she should obey his orders and do as he says, and that her life would be at stake if she did not agree. “We got scared and we finally lodged a complaint with the police,” he said.
He went on to allege that Mohan did not let her do any work. “He always used to say that she should be a puppet and obey his orders despite her victory. She could not perform her duties and help the people because of the continuous discrimination,” he added.
The caste Hindu leaders allegedly never allowed her to sit on a chair when they were around nor did they allow her to hoist the flag during the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations.
Cuddalore Collector Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri told reporters that the information was not brought to the attention of the district administration, and he has ordered the suspension of the Panchayat Secretary. The Cuddalore Collector also visited Rajeshwari and conducted an enquiry.