A day after a video of a Dalit goatherd falling at the feet of a Thevar man in a forced gesture of apology was recorded, the Tamil Nadu Police on Tuesday arrested seven people for their involvement in the incident. This was the second occurrence recently of a telling display of caste inequalities plaguing the districts in the southern state.
Last week, a case was registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against a panchayat vice president in Cuddalore after the president, belonging to the Scheduled Caste community, accused him of forcing her to sit on the floor during meetings.
In the latest incident, seven people were arrested for forcing 55-year-old Paulraj, a member of the Pallar community under Scheduled Castes, to tender an apology in the way traditionally abused by upper castes to force oppressed communities into submission. Paulraj was made to apologise after a goat from his herd waded into that of an upper caste man.
The seven have been booked under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, IPC Section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 294B (does any obscene act in any public place), 147 (guilty of rioting) and Section 66 of the IT Act.
According to a formal complaint by Paulraj, a goat from his herd inadvertently entered that of Sivasangu Thevar in Olaypalayam village in Thoothukudi. After an argument, a mob from the dominant caste accosted Paulraj and issued death threats. Out of fear, Paulraj was forced to prostrate.
In his letter, Paulraj describes the watertight compartmentalisation of public spaces in the village. “On October 8, I had my herd graze at the central stream of the Thirumanga Kulam [pond]. At that time, Sivasangu Thevar had his own herd grazing nearby. One goat from my herd slipped off and got into that of Sivasangu Thevar…”
Paulraj describes how the Thevar man brandished a stick and let out a scathing diatribe at him for having the gumption to let his goat mix with one from his herd.
The video of Palraj’s prostration was recorded by Thevar’s friends and broadcast on social media. In his complaint, Paulraj has sought strict action against Thevar and others involved in the incident.