A 20-year-old Dalit man, who was assaulted near Virudachalam in Cuddalore district, by five members of the Vanniyar community, was arrested by the police on Wednesday. Ajith Kumar alias Alagesan's arrest came after his attackers who were detained by the police, in turn accused him of assault.
The tussle began on Saturday, when Alagesan was returning to his residence with his sister-in-law, after applying for a gold loan. He had been wearing sun glasses as he passed through the village where members of the numerically dominant Vanniyar caste (Other Backward classes category), watched him. Upon noticing Alagesan, a Vanniyar man named Gopi stopped him and demanded that he remove his sunglasses and walk his bike back home.
"This was not the first time that these two men had had this argument, " says Subbujothi, a former Dalit Panchayat leader from the region. "This year alone, we have witnessed two heated arguments between them. Gopi would talk badly about Alagesan and his community. His argument was that Dalits cannot dress stylishly and ride a bike past caste Hindus," he adds.
And as he had done in the past, Alagesan fought back and refused to yield to Gopi's demands this time too. Following this, Gopi allegedly attempted to disrobe his sister-in-law, following which Alagesan raised an alarm.
"They left when he began calling for help but later in the evening, when Alagesan was with his father in the Colony (Dalit settlement), Gopi came with five more men and attacked him," says Subbujothi.
According to the police, Gopi and his associates pelted stones on Alagesan and his father. However, Alagesan has told the media that they were also beaten up and when his mother Annakili rushed to intervene, she was allegedly attacked with a sickle.
Following protests in the village of M Pattikudikadu after the attack, the police arrested Gopi and five others. They were booked under the Atrocities against Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act.
However, two days later, much to the shock of the victims, the police arrested Alagesan as well. This, after Gopi and his men alleged that Alagesan had assaulted them as well. Subbujothi who has now engaged a lawyer to file a bail petition for Alagesan says that the arrest came as a big blow for the community.
"For several decades now, we have been fighting the terrible discrimination we face in the hands of Vanniyars here just because there are larger in number," he says. "They treat us like vermin and attack us if we even enter their village. And now, when they are clearly in the wrong, the police has arrested Alagesan merely for protecting himself. This is only because of political pressure," he alleges.
When asked which party backed the accused Vanniyars, the former Panchayat leader says, caste blurs party lines.
"All Vanniyar leaders from DMK, AIADMK, PMK and even DMDK will come out in support of their community, irrespective of the issue," he says bitterly. "There is nobody who will stand up for us," he adds.
The police however argue that they had to act on the complaint of Gopi and his associates. They further claim that it was not a caste based attack.
"This was just an individual issue and doesn't have anything to do with their communities," says DSP Karthikeyan. "Gopi and others have pelted stones. And in turn Alagesan and two others have assaulted them. They have been injured as well. This could be a case of private defense but the court has to take a call on the matter. The police can only act as per the law."