People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 47

November 20, 2011



Struggle for Social Justice Achieves

Decisive Victory in Uthapuram




THE sustained struggles and efforts by the CPI(M) and Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front(TNUEF) have led to the success achieved by the dalits of Uthapuram village, Madurai district in Tamilnadu. On November 11, the dalits of this village had entered the Muthalamman temple that was "out of bound" for them for almost 22 years.



The presence of an untouchability wall came to light in Uthapuram village in a survey conducted by the TNUEF in 2007. In the subsequent interactions, it was found that there are many untouchability practices existing there. The CPI(M) and the TNUEF had decided to take up these issues and made it clear that the movement will end only after accomplishing the task. On May 6, 2008 the untouchability wall was demolished as Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M) was scheduled to visit Uthapuram on May 7. A common path was created there for public use. The visit of Prakash Karat had set the tone for further social struggles not only in Uthapuram, but in the entire state.


Even after the breaking of the wall and securing the public passage, the Uthapuram dalits have not been allowed to use the passage freely by the caste Hindus. They have obstructed the free movement of dalits by laying their household belongings, stones, sand and rubble on the public passage. When a complaint was lodged against the upper caste groups with the police, it was the dalits who had to face enquiry and harassment. Eventually there was brutal lathicharge on the dalits injuring the women, children and the elderly. There were plans to arrest hundreds of dalits. The TNUEF and the CPI (M) organised powerful protests demanding a judicial enquiry into the incident.


Thereafter, the Madurai unit of the AIDWA filed a writ petition in the Madurai bench of Tamilnadu High Court, demanding a judicial enquiry into police atrocities on Uthapuram dalits and sought compensation to the victims and punishment to the culprits under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The High Court appointed a commission consisting of two judges to inquire into the incidents and directed to report its findings to the High Court. The commission in its report indicted the police for excesses against the Uthapuram dalits and recommended Rs 15 lakhs compensation for the victims. While the Tamilnadu government objected to the findings of the report, the High Court has passed an interim order to pay compensation to the victims to the tune of Rs 10 lakhs. This interim order has come as a notable victory in the legal battle.


Although demolishing the wall was an important development, other issues like denial to go around Peepul tree, refusing to erect a shelter at bus stop, the false cases foisted on dalits by the police, diversion of the ditch that was coming towards the dalit area and so on. People were organising struggles under the leadership of the CPI(M) and the TNUEF. Last year, the TNUEF had organised a picketing of Madurai Collector Office. The police had resorted to lathicharge on the leaders and the dalits. T K Rengarajan, MP, P Sampath, president, TNUEF, K Samuel Raj, general secretary, TNUEF and other leaders were injured in the attack. Protest demonstrations were organised all over the state.


Then came the temple entry movement, in which the leaders of the TNUEF had made some heroic attempts. The entire village was looking like fortress which was under the firm control of police. They did not allow anybody from outside. G Ramakrishnan, state secretary, CPI(M) was leading the  temple entry movement. But he was arrested in Madurai itself. The surprise came from within the Uthapuram village. The government machinery was stunned to see some of the leaders in front of a procession that was proceeding towards the temple. They were also arrested.


Madurai(rural) district secretary of AIDWA, S K Ponnuthai had to enter the village at night time. It took four hours for her to cross just four kilometres. Despite the heavy posse of policemen, K Samuel Raj, S K Mahendran and S K Ponnuthai had sneaked into the village. This had given the dalits a great confidence and these events greatly enthused them. On the same day, they were getting ready for further struggles.



After the temple entry movement, the temple was closed. Before the struggle, only caste Hindus were allowed to enter the temple. The struggle has made the temple a disputed one. The melting point was this. Some of the caste Hindus had started feeling the pinch. Hence, they were ready for the compromise when the superintendent of police Asra Garg made an attempt to resolve the issue. On October 20, there was an agreement between the dalits and caste Hindus. According to the agreement, dalits can enter the temple and worship the deity, they can worship by going around Peepul tree, bus stop shelter would come up and the cases will be withdrawn etc. It was also agreed that the path that was laid after the demolition of the untouchability wall will be widened.


A first step was taken in implementing the agreement. On November 11, the dalits entered the temple and offered pujas. They were in tears when they stepped into the temple. They offered coconuts and fruits to the deity.  Some people from caste Hindus had welcomed the dalits at the entrance of the temple. Sankaralingam of Uthapuram village had to say this, "We are happy to enter temple after a long time. Hereafter, there will be no problem between the two communities. We will live together and in peace".


The CPI(M) and the TNUEF have welcomed the agreement and the entry of dalits into the temple. R Annadurai, CPI(M) MLA, Madurai(South), M Thangaraj, Madurai district secretary, TNUEF, S K  Ponnuthai, state secretary, TNUEF and district secretary, AIDWA, U Nirmala Rani, Lawyer reached Uthapuram and greeted the dalits when they were proceeding to the temple.




Social harmony will be prevalent only when the atrocities are brought to an end, CPI(M) state secretary, G Ramakrishnan said in a statement. The statement also insisted on fulfilling the other promises made in the agreement. Further, developmental activities should be carried out in the village. The state and district administration should gear upto this, he demanded.


Since there are more promises that have to be fulfilled, the TNUEF had exhorted the people of Uthapuram to further the struggles for achieving the democratic rights. It has also pointed out that the unity among the dalits and working class will pave the way for success.