A case has been registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against a panchayat vice president in Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore after the president, belonging to the Scheduled Caste community, accused him of forcing her to sit on the floor during meetings.
Police are on the lookout for the vice president Mohan Raj, while suspended panchayat secretary Sinduja and ward member R Sugumar have been arrested, a senior police official said, adding the latter has been held for offences, including intimidation.
In viral visuals, Rajeshwari S, the dalit president of the Therku Thittai panchayat, can be seen sitting on the floor, while five other members are seated on chairs. The images led to an outrage prompting authorities to swing into action. Rajeshwari accused the panchayat members, who belong to the Vanniyar community, of harassment and discrimination based on caste.
“I am asked to sit on the floor during panchayat board meetings by Mohan Rajan, the vice-president, because I am Dalit and they are Vanniyars. I was not allowed to hoist the flag and was told that I’m not entitled to do so. I was also threatened by Rajan when I tried to object against the treatment meted out to me,” she said.
Meanwhile, denying allegations of discrimination, Rajan told News18 that it was Rajeshwari’s “own decision to sit on the floor”.
However, another ward member, on conditions of anonymity, confirmed that the president was made to sit on the floor because she was a Dalit.
District Collector Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri and Police Superintendent M Sree Abhinav went to the village, located near the temple town of Chidambaram and held an inquiry on Saturday. The Police officer said Rajeswari named the panchayat vice president and secretary in her complaint and a case has been registered against the duo under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act for offences, including humiliation and for obstructing her official work.
Soon after, the district collector suspended the panchayat secretary for failing to apprise the officials about the matter and have also issued a show cause notice to the board members, including the vice president.
“We will take a statement from her, investigate and appropriate action will be taken," Abhinav told reporters. To a question, he said there would be no threat to her life, adding adequate police personnel have been deployed in the village.
“Other ward members too have realised what has gone wrong," he said. The collector said four meetings have been held in the panchayat office so far, adding some ward members claimed that she did so voluntarily.
“The inquiry is going on, based on her complaint. Strict action as per law will be taken against those involved," he said, adding the photograph was clicked on July 17, 2020, according to the date displayed on that image. A show cause notice has been issued to Mohan under the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act’s provision, governing removal of the vice president and appropriate action would betaken, he said.
Action will be taken against the accused as the investigation progresses, said district officials.
Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar said it was ‘barbaric’ and promised tough action as per law. The AIADMK government had all along given due respect and recognition for the marginalised people, including Scheduled Castes and Tribes, he said.
MDMK general secretary Vaiko said such humiliation was outrageous, while DMK MP Kanimozhi said it was strongly condemnable and the leaders demanded tough action. Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) Thol Thirumavalavan demanded the immediate arrest of those involved in obstructing official work of the panchayat president.
Not only Theruku Thittai, the scenario was the same in several other villages, the VCK leader alleged and urged the government to review the situation and takeappropriate remedial action. Meanwhile, cadres of VCK and Left outfits gathered in front of the Buvanagiri police station in the district, demanding the arrest of the vice president and secretary.
(With inputs from Prasanna Venkatesan and agencies)