Woman IAS officer stages sit-in for Dalits' cause

Protest yields immediate action as police nab intruder

Woman IAS officer stages sit-in for Dalits' cause

Virdhunagar District Collector Siji Thomas Vaidhyan inspects development works in the district.

For nearly four hours on Wednesday evening, Vaidhyan, did a sit-in at T Veppangulam village near Virdhunagar, over 460 km south of Chennai, until the police arrested an upper caste intruder who abusively sought to intimidate Dalits at a peace meeting held there.

While the southern districts have been prone in the past for frequent skirmishes between upper caste ‘Thevars’ and ‘Dalits’, this public hearing to redress Dalits’ grievances peaked a two-month effort to get back 10-odd Scheduled Caste families to the village after they had left in disgust.

“Whatever you may call it – a ‘dharna’ or a ‘sit-in’, I did this to instill confidence in the village people, and we have to live up to the word that the Government will act in unison in addressing the Dalits grievances,” Vaidhyan told Deccan Herald over telephone on Friday.

Nearly two months back, there was a photo-session in the village for would-be beneficiaries of the recently introduced ‘Kaliagnar Kaapeetu Thittam’, a new health insurance scheme of the DMK government that provides access to high-cost medical care, mainly surgeries, to the poor people.

People enlisting themselves under this scheme get a photo-identity card.
There was then a scuffle between some Dalits and upper caste Thevars waiting in the queue, after which the SC families left the village. Since then, the Virdhunagar District Administration has been persuading them to return through talks at various levels, Vaidhyan said.  

“We decided to have a public hearing at the village on December 2 and address all their grievances,” said Siji Vaidhyan.

The peace meeting went off very well and “everything fell into place”, she said. The Administration assured the Dalits that protection will be given ro them if needed. The Thevars also wanted the Dalit families to return.

However, when the meeting was almost over, an upper-caste intruder, Manoharan, barged into the Panchayat Union Elementary School building and “threatened the Dalits.”  
Vaidhyan said she immediately ordered Manoharan’s arrest, who quickly fled the scene. The police told her that they needed some time to arrest him.

“But I took a stand that I will leave the village only if this person is arrested,” Vaidhyan said. Accordingly, she sat inside the school waiting, along with a couple of other district officials, until the police arrested Manoharan past 10 pm that same night.

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