About 150-200 families in the Pudupatty village are turned away from barber and laundry services allegedly due to their caste.

Pudupatty village in Pudhukottai blockspecial arrangements
news Caste Issue, Court Wednesday, February 09, 2022 - 18:14

Ayyappan, a 58-year-old bank employee, had to get his attire ironed for office one morning. However, when he went to the laundry services shop in his village of Pudupatty, in Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district, he was turned away -- not because the shop owners were busy, or didn’t provide ironing services, but because Ayyappan belongs to a Scheduled Caste community.

This is the reality of SC families that reside in the village, which comes under Karambakudi taluk. "Out of 600 families, around 150-200 belong to the Scheduled Castes (SC) community, who are denied these services by the by the dominant caste communities", says R 54-year-old Selvan, a resident of the neighbouring village of Kottaikadu, and a teacher. He is also a member of the Periyar Ambedkar Makkal Kazhagam, a political party. He says that he travels through the Pudupatty on a daily basis to his workplace at Karambakudi town, and that all his relatives reside in the village. He had been petitioning multiple government officials, including the district collector, Superintendent of Police (SP), Director General of Police (DGP), Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), National Human Rights Commission and others.“I have sent more than 13 petitions with detailed representation to all these officials, but no action has been taken.”

Since there has been no action taken despite his repeated petitions, Selvan filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, on January 29, 2022. Taking up the issue on Wednesday, February 9, a bench of Justice Paresh Upadhyay and Justice Krishnan Ramasamy has issued a notice to the state government and other respondents seeking an explanation within four weeks.

The litigant has said in his petition, “Even if those at the barber shop agree to render their service, those belonging to the dominant community intervene and create issues”. Citing section 3 of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 (Punishments for offences of atrocities), Selvan asked the state government to identify the area, visit and review the law and order situation.

“Despite Article 17 stating that untouchability is abolished and practicing the same is forbidden, and the enforcement of any disability arising out of ‘untouchability’ shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law, it is still being practised in Pudupatty village,” he said. Selvan argued that this discrimination against the SC community residents is against Article 14 of the Constituion which guarantees equality before law as a fundamental right.

“As far as I can remember, the two barber shops and one laundry shop does not render their services to people belonging to SC community,” says Ayyappan. “We have to go to Karambakkudi town, which is ten kilometres away to get our hair done or get our dress ironed.” He adds that if and when police come and enquire about the issue, the shop owners say that they do “cut their (SC community’s) hair.”

“There was an instance when my relative went to a barber shop to get a haircut and he was sent back because of his caste. I remember him crying to me on the way to his office,” says Selvan. While the barber and laundry stores refuse services to the SC community, this is not the case for other shops or establishments in the village.