Caste based discrimination and related atrocities are not a new evil in Tamil Nadu, and several incidents of people from marginalised castes being denied access to resources have been reported even recently. In the last two weeks alone, two separate incidents of Dalits being denied access to burial sites for cremating deceased members of their community were reported across the state. So what happens when the resources being controlled by dominant castes can be as basic as drinking water? In the latest such case of atrocity to be exposed in Tamil Nadu, a community of Dalits in Kayampatti village in Madurai West have reportedly been denied full access to drinking water.
According to sources, Kayampatti’s 200-odd families have been regularly drawing water from a 25-year old overhead tank for their drinking water needs. This water is supplied via two separate valves – one for the dominant caste households – Kallars, Nadars and Chettiars – and the other for Adi Dravidar settlements (Dalits).
However, members of the 90-odd Adi Dravidar families in Kayampatti have been complaining that for the last three to four years, the dominant caste residents have been limiting their access to the water in the tank. “They put a lock on the valve which supplies water to us. They are doing this to intentionally limit the water we receive, while they use unlimited amount of water from the tank,” says Saravanan, a resident of Kayampatti.
While water was being distributed through separate valves for the last two decades in the village, dominant castes limiting Dalits’ access to water is a new phenomenon, residents say. The locked valve is opened at specific times of the day, forcing members of the Adi Dravidar community to rush to store water.
“We hardly get enough water for our needs. During the day, when everyone has to go to work, most people scramble for water. All we ask is that the water is supplied equally to everyone without prejudice,” Bhakyalakshmi, another resident told Puthiya Thalamurai.
Each family in the Dalit colony gets just two to three pots of water per day. The valve is also unlocked at erratic times with no specific windows, according to residents.
“Sometimes they open it for 30 minutes and at other times for over an hour. Usually water is supplied to the colony members anywhere between 6 and 7.30 am while the dominant caste residents enjoy unlimited supply with no time constraints,” says a source from Madurai.
For several months now, residents say they have attempted to raise the issue with the District Collector and the Panchayat Development Officer or PDO, but to no avail. Political parties too have failed to offer any solutions to the residents here.
With the incident being exposed by a journalist working with Puthiya Thalaimurai channel, officials from the PDO office inspected the tank and removed the lock on the valve on Tuesday. Promises have also been made to undertake restoration and servicing of corroded pipelines in the Dalit colony.
According to sources, water supply also faces blockage due to old and corroding pipelines in the Dalit colony.
“The pipelines supplying water to the houses of the dominant caste residents were recently serviced by the Panchayat Union. However, the pipes in the other part of the village are old, affecting the flow of water to the Dalit colony,” the source says.