About 20 Dalit families living at Bharathi Nagar near Chinna Thadagam in Coimbatore were excited to celebrate Vinayaka Chaturthi for the first time on their own and worship their deity on September 5. But the festival day ended with them being hit by stones and beaten up by caste Hindus in Coimbatore on Wednesday.
The Dalit families have been living in Bharathi Nagar for generations and work as bonded labourers at a brick construction factory. “Every year our community goes and plays drums at the caste Hindu temple where we are not allowed to worship the deity. So, this year we built our own Vinayaka statue and worshipped the deity near our houses,” said Sandhya, a Dalit who works as a cashier at a petrol bunk.
The 21-year-old alleged that some caste Hindu people began abusing them at around 9pm last Monday. Sandhya said, “They asked us how can we worship here without their permission. We had also refused to go and play drums for them this year.” She then claimed that the caste Hindus beat up a few Dalits and then pelted stones at their houses.
However, Hindu reports that it began when two groups of Dalits had a dispute over the immersion of an idol. When some caste Hindu women reportedly questioned them for making a noise, some Dalits, who were allegedly drunk, assaulted them injuring two women. It was following this that some caste Hindus retaliated, assaulting the Dalits.
Pannerselvam, a lawyer, alleged that the situation went out of control. “Caste Hindus started beating up Mardachalam. When his wife Pooneri tried to stop them, they beat her and also one of their relatives. Three others also got injured when the caste Hindus pelted stones at them,” he said.
An FIR was registered against the caste Hindus under IPC sections 341, 294(B), 324 and 506(ii) on Thursday.
Paneerselvam said that it was only following a protest by Dalits in front of the Collectorate that the collector came to know that Dalits are kept as bonded labourers. The lawyer also said that the collector promised to inform the State Commission for Scheduled Castes.
Narrating the many problems her community faced, Sandhya said, “The labourers are paid Rs 150 per day and if they do not go for work one day, they are scolded badly. If we sit on a seat in the bus, the caste Hindus scold and abuse us.”
She also alleged that Dalit children were not allowed inside the elementary school at Bharathi Nagar following the clash. “Our children went to school on Tuesday, the caste Hindu people told them that there is no use of them to study and shooed them away,” alleged Sandhya.