Tuesday, May 06, 2008

'Caste wall' is partly demolished

Officials in India's Tamil Nadu state have partly demolished a wall which segregated higher caste Hindus from Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.

The higher caste residents of Uthapuram village in southern Madurai say they won permission for the wall after inter-caste violence in the late 1980s.

It kept people of the Dalit class out of the main parts of the village.

Rural India is riven by caste tensions, but a physical barrier separating communities is almost unheard of.

'Private land'

Pro-Dalit groups recently began to campaign against the barrier in Uthaparum, some 600km (350 miles) from the state capital Chennai (Madras).

The campaign gathered strength after reports that the wall had also been electrified.

The authorities demolished part of the wall following an order to allow Dalits into the village. Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi announced the decision in the state assembly.

About 800 higher caste Hindus are reported to have decided to leave the village and seek refuge on a nearby hillock in protest against the decision.

A community leader, SP Murugesan, said they had informed district officials of their decision to abandon the village and had also surrendered their family ration cards to them.

He said the wall had been built on private land with the consent of the authorities in 1989.

The move to demolish the wall was arbitrary and did not take into account security concerns of the higher caste Hindus who feared attacks from "anti social elements" among the Dalits, he said.

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