The 20-foot-high ‘untouchability wall,’ which collapsed near Nadur village in Mettupalayam in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district in December last year and claimed as many as 17 Dalit lives, has been reconstructed by the resident. The resident got permission from the local municipal authorities to raise the wall which they now call a ‘compound wall.’
Mettupalayam Municipality commissioner S. Sureshkumar confirmed giving permission to build a wall at the same place. However, he rejected claims that the wall is a way to discriminate against Dalits living on the other side.
“It is not a discriminatory wall or untouchability wall, as people would like to call it. After the collapse of the wall last December, the resident did not construct a new wall. Since the resident’s house is located at a steeply location, he sought permission to set up a compound wall. As the place was already a disputed area, we consulted the district collector and gave permission to set up a compound wall at a height of six feet from the ground,” Sureshkumar said.
“The wall might look high because the houses behind the bungalow are about 14 feet below. So, it is obvious the wall looks high. If the resident raises the height above six feet from the ground level, we will definitely take action,” Sureshkumar added.
People from the village are anxious ever since the wall came up again. “Soon after the lockdown ended, they started constructing the wall and finished it before even we could react. We could not concentrate on it because of our livelihood issues post-lockdown. But, we will take it up with the authorities if they continue to increase the height,” said S Sekar, a resident of Nadur village.
The new wall is being rebuilt at the same place where an alleged discriminatory wall (compound wall as claimed by officials) constructed with stones collapsed in the early hours of December 2 and fell on the houses on the other side of the wall, crushing 17 Dalits to death. Though there was a huge outrage over the incident, police did not pay heed to the demands of the people to book the house owner who built the huge unsafe wall.
Now Dalits have expressed fear that other residents too would increase the height of walls without following safety protocols.
“Only after the intervention of political parties, police and revenue officials, the Caste-Hindus over here accepted to reduce the height of the walls separating us and them. They even blocked the road leading to their streets. But, now when disputed land itself has got the approval from the officials, other caste-Hindus will also take it for granted,” said a resident on condition of anonymity.
A majority of Dalits from the locality chose not to react. Palanisamy, who organised the people during the incident, felt that people have given up since they couldn’t afford to fight against the caste-Hindus.
“They either work in the houses of caste-Hindus or in their farmhouses. So, even the family members of the deceased, who lost their lives in the wall collapse, are not opposing the construction of the new wall,” said Palanisamy, another resident of Nadur village.