The lynching of a Dalit youth in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, on Wednesday (February 12) has once again brought to the fore the government’s claim of having made the state open defecation free (ODF) besides the issue of discrimination against Dalits in the state.
R Sakthivel, the 24-year-old, who succumbed to his injuries, was mistaken for a flasher when he stopped by S Pudhur village to defecate.
Highlighting the issue of atrocities against Dalits, Murugappan, state coordinator, Social Awareness Society for Youth (SASY) said that similar incidents had taken place in the past too, but went unreported.
“Most of the times, the perpetrators use defecating in the open as a reason to attack Dalits. But the underlying cause would be something else-like previous enmity, jealousy or differences over usage of public spaces,” he said.
Though the victim’s family was given ₹4 lakh as compensation and an investigation is on under SC/ST Act, there lies a larger picture behind the crime.
Villupuram district is an economically and socially backward district where the majority of residents are Dalits.
The district has 15 town panchayats, of which Gingee and Anandhapuram are the only districts which are declared ‘open-defecation free’, under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
The government claims that 114 common toilets were built under the scheme and all of them are being used by the public. However, many disagree and allege that there is a mismatch between the data on paper and the ground reality.
According to Velu, a teacher in Villupuram, in the village of Karai where around 300 families reside, only 10% of them have access to toilets – most of them caste Hindus.
He added that caste Hindus too defecate in the open as they use their toilets as storerooms. He said, “as most of the toilets weren’t built properly, after being in use for six months, they started using them as storerooms. Therefore, many resort to defecating in the open, now.”
Further, he added that toilets and other facilities were built only in areas which are dominated by caste Hindus and not in Dalit inhabited colonies.
Agreeing with Velu, Pandian, founder, “Witness for Justice,” an organisation working towards Dalit rights said that most of the infrastructural developments take place only in Hindu dominated regions.
“Be it ration shops, schools, hospitals and even community toilets, most of the infrastructures are found only on the streets where Hindus live. Dalits do not have the right to access these facilities and that is why they demand separate schools, toilets and ration shops” he said.
Pandian also added that in some southern districts such as Madurai, one can even see the community toilets kept locked, to prevent Dalits from using it.
D Ravikumar, Lok Sabha MP from Villupuram, alleged that funds allotted for infrastructure development of the area have gone unused in the last one year.
“In 1919, Villupuram was announced as ‘municipality’. The district is now celebrating its centenary year. In order to mark the event, in 2019, the chief minister allotted ₹50 crores for developing infrastructure in the district. But nothing was done in the last one year” he said.
Even though, the district has two main highways passing through it – Trichy-Chennai and Villupuram-Puducherry – the Dalits residing in colonies, along the way, lack the basic facilities of water and toilet.
“The lack of infrastructure push Dalits to defecate in the open. This results in the lynching of Dalits, one way or the other” added Ravikumar.