Three-day drama over dalit’s final rites end as cops turn pallbearers

Nagapattinam (Matters India): After three days of tension-filled moments, the tragic story of the 100-year-old Dalit man who died on Sunday but could not be buried till now due to casteist tensions came to a somewhat farcical end on Wednesday evening, after police personnel snatched his body from his relatives and took it to the burial ground through a different road.

Caste Hindus in the area had refused to allow the Dalits to access the road, and the district administration failed to change their mind or impress upon them against interfering despite a directive by the Madras High Court. Instead, unable to find a compromise between the two communities, they took the body through another road much against the wishes of the relatives, leading to skirmishes with some Dalit members. When the situation threatened to spiral out of control, police cane-charged the group and detained about 40 of them.

After A Chellamuthu of Thirunadkondacherry died, the caste Hindus there had refused to allow his funeral procession to take the Kaliyamman Kovil Street leading to the cremation ground situated on the Makimalaiaru riverbed. Following this, his grandson had approached the High Court, which rued the existence of casteist inequalities, and directed officials to ensure that the burial was held on Tuesday.

However, despite the unambiguous directive from the top court of the State, the district administration could not help the family of the deceased on Tuesday.

A series of peace talks on Wednesday failed to convince the influential caste Hindus in the neighbourhood, who stood steadfast in opposing the Dalits taking the road. Instead, they threatened to return their ration cards as a sign of protest if the procession was taken through their street.

To work a way out, the administration decided to take a different route to the ground, which, however, was opposed by the Dalits, charging that it was discriminatory and against the spirit of the High Court verdict.

As tension mounted, they locked Chellamuthu’s house from inside and threatened to commit self-immolation if police tried to take the body without their consent.

Later, police convinced the Dalits that the body would be taken through the Kaliyamman Kovil Street not withstanding the opposition from caste Hindus.

However, before long, the large number of personnel who accompanied the procession allegedly snatched the body and took it through the alternate route, much to the chagrin of the Dalits.

This resulted in skirmishes, which in turn led to lathicharge and detention of dozens of community members, even as the body was taken to the burial ground. It was the personnel and a few villagers who performed the last rites, said sources.

“They cheated us by promising to give protection to undertake the funeral procession through the street. What they did was exactly the opposite, and they have also detained about 40 of us after lathicharge,” complained a Dalit from the locality.

Speaking to Indian Express, Nagapattinam collector S Palaisamy maintained that the authorities have levelled the allegedly inaccessible alternate road into a commutable one.

“Also, a sum of Rs 21 lakh has been sanctioned to improvise the existing road by March,” Palaisamy added.

Expressing his annoyance over the drama that preceded the cremation, advocate S Rajanikanth who argued the case before the High Court, told Express that they would file a contempt of court petition against the district authorities on Thursday.

“We will urge the court to take action against the officials under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” Rajanikanth added.

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