Six years after a towering 7-foot caste wall near a Dalit settlement in Thokkamur village in Tamil Nadu’s Thiruvallur district was built, the barrier was finally demolished on the morning of October 3. Speaking to TNM, Thiruvallur district Collector Alby John said, “The wall stood between the Dalit settlement and the adheenam land belonging to the temple across the road from the settlement. Some residents alleged that the wall had been constructed in 2016 for flood mitigation, but in the past few weeks people from the settlement made representations to the tahsildar to bring down the wall as it was discriminatory.” The Collector added that after several rounds of talks between the Dalit community living in Thokkamur and the Vanniyars (Most Backward Class), a consensus was reached to demolish the 7-foot wall.
The practice of erecting discriminatory caste walls is prevalent across the state. Samuel Raj, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), points out how such walls are a means of “Segregation, falsely criminalising Dalit communities and an attempt to maintain the monetary value of tracts of land. Demolishing the caste wall in Thiruvallur is a welcome move by the state government, but it was TNUEF who had to bring the wall to their attention in the first place. It is time for the state government to take the initiative on its own, identify caste walls such as these in the state and demolish all of them. They cannot keep waiting for organisations such as ours to point out wherever these walls are, before they take any action.”
In 2019, a 20-foot caste wall collapsed in Nadur village, Coimbatore, killing 17 Dalit residents of the nearby Kannappan Nagar. Heavy rains that year caused the wall to crash on top of three homes, burying the residents in debris. The person who constructed the caste wall, a textile shop owner named Sivasubramaniam, whose house was adjacent to the settlement, reconstructed the wall to the same height within a year of the incident with permission from the local municipality despite the loss of life and widespread outrage.
The Thiruvallur caste wall was demolished amidst tight police security, The Hindu reported. “We do not expect any untoward incidents as all parties have agreed to bring it down,” Alby John told TNM, adding that police personnel have been stationed at the village as a precautionary measure.