22 years after Melavalavu massacre, what has changed — and what hasn’t

Deeply-entrenched caste prejudices continue to surface leading to tragic outcomes against Dalits

On a sunny November day, M Muthu (name changed) is busy tying haystacks on a piece of farmland owned by his caste Hindu employer. Exhausted after hours of back-breaking work since 7 in the morning, Muthu approaches a nearby house for a glass of water.

When the woman of the house comes out with a pot of water, Muthu's thirst gets the better of him and he lunges forward to grab the pot. He is immediately "brought back to his senses" as the woman starts shouting. Muthu steps backwards and meekly cups his hands. The woman then starts pouring water from the pot into the air which eventually lands into his cupped hands.

Years of working under the hot sun and a ruthless caste system have taught Muthu to make his own compromises with destiny. The farm labourer from Tamil Nadu's Melavalavu village in Madurai district has witnessed many such things in his lifetime, the scars of which he feels will haunt him in his next life as well.

Melavalavu is the same village where six Dalits were hacked to death on June 30, 1997 by caste Hindus following the election of a Dalit to the village council presidency.

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