Tamilnadu : Drinking  water-tank of  Vengaivayal dalit colony found with human excreta mixed: no arrests, no breakthrough even after one year

water tank
Tamilnadu, Pudukkottai Dt , Vengaivayal village drinking  water tank in which human excreta was found mixed with water  in December 2022. Reports show that such an atrocity is not the first of its kind in the state. Photo By Express News Service shows signs of police presence.

More shocking is this: Despite High Court orders, a CB-CID probe and CM’s assurances in the legislature to nab the culprits, attention of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, no arrests were made, and no breakthrough in the case was achieved by the DMK government even after one year. Tamilnadu police is known as the Scotland yard of India, but mostly found wanting, if not conniving, when it comes to tackling caste oppression.   

This is not a rare incident in Tamilnadu: Hundreds of cases of caste atrocities and oppression were reported earlier in these columns.

All this happens in a State that had non-Brahmin CMs since 1920, for 13 years until 1937; and of course Periyarist CMs for 55 years uninterruptedly, who were preceded by non-Brahmin Kamaraja Nadar, a top Congress leader.

Efforts to translate and publish articles on the subject in Tamil – so badly necessary- did not materialize, in the last more than one year, despite goodwill of friends. Well wishers of the cause ready to render or find voluntary support are welcome to join in this effort, facilitated by countercurrents.org and its editor Binu Mathew.      

However, some seminars on the subject were reportedly held, during the last one year, in various places of  Tamilnadu, including Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore.   

Now BJP is seeking to fish in troubled waters. Hunting with the hound and running with the hare is part of the double-tongued tactics of the double engine promoters.The best way to counter them is not to hide realities, but by exposing and fighting against the caste oppression that we found is inseparable from class exploitation.After all dalit elite occupied top places in various fields, but the poorer masses are left high and dry.


***                ***

 Despite continuous police deployment since the day of the  Vengaivayal incident, normalcy remains elusive for the villagers. In an interaction with indian Express, CB-CID DSP D Palpandi explained the delay in nabbing the culprits, citing a lack of material witnesses.The case was taken up by the CB-CID (Crime Branch-Crime Investigation Department) of the Tamil Nadu police on January 14, 2022.  

Five Dalit children of the Vengavayal village in South Tamil Nadu’s Pudukkottai district fell ill and were hospitalised on December 24, 2022, a day before Christmas. More people fell sick later. The doctors who treated the children had alerted the villagers regarding possible contamination of drinking water: To their great shock, they  discovered that the drinking water source of the Dalit families had been contaminated with human excreta. The tank was cleaned with bleaching powder on December 26, and pipe connections to the houses were replaced two weeks later.  It was a 10,000-litre tank, supplying drinki ng water to the Dalit community of around 100 people. It as an adi dravidar colony, and home to the SC Arunthathiyar community.

‘Water had turned yellow’

After doctors suggested that the drinking water source could be the reason behind the problem, a group of young men climbed the tank and inspected it. 

Moksha Gunavalagan, a political activist in the area, told NDTV: “A huge quantity of feces was found dumped inside the water tank. So much so the water had turned yellow. Without knowing that, for a week or so, the people were drinking this water. When children fell ill — that’s when the truth came out.”  He further said that people kept consuming the water as they were unaware of the development. It is not yet clear who is responsible. The fence around the water tank had been opened in the last few days. 

In a chat with the media outlet, the locals revealed that discrimination  prevailed for a long time in the village, as individuals from Schedule Castes have not been allowed inside the village temple for three generations. 

Pudukkottai district  collector Kavitha Ramu and district police chief Vandita Pandey paid a visit to Irayur village Tamil Nadu on Dec 27 Tuesday after receiving reports of the incident. (Also spelt as Eraiyur, it is adjoining, linked village to Vengavayal dalit habitation, of Muttukadu panchayat.) 

“When the young men climbed the tank, they found the lid open… No one has reported seeing anyone climb and dump the waste into the water tank,” the collector said. 

A probe by district authorities also revealed deep-rooted untouchability as the local tea shop practised a two-glass system; dalits in the area were forbidden to enter the community temple. They got a case filed against the tea vendor; they also booked an “upper caste” woman concerning the temple issue. The woman claimed that the deity possessed her.

It is believed that the contamination may have been a planned attack, potentially linked to caste discrimination. Caste-based discrimination and violence are significant issues in several villages in Tamil Nadu. The dropping of human excrement in water tanks is not a new tactic in the state, said a report by IANS (Dec 29, 2022).

One year later, Express News Service,26th December 2023, from Pudukkottai reported: 

“ A year has passed since human faeces were found inside an overhead tank …yet the investigation has yielded no arrests or significant breakthroughs. The incident has left both the affected SC village and nearby caste Hindu villagers in a state of disarray.”

The incident was initially probed by the Pudukottai district police and subsequently transferred to the (Crime Branch of police) CB-CID in January, 2023. The water tank is not being used currently as it is part of the evidence for the case. Despite continuous police deployment since that day, normalcy remains elusive for the villagers.

The CB-CID utilised scientific methods, including DNA tests on 31 individuals and voice tests on two. Requests for polygraph tests for 10 persons are pending. As the New Year approaches, the residents of Vengaivayal anxiously await answers.

“Government is impeding the investigation results”?

M Kathiresan, a caste Hindu farmer from Eraiyur village, said, “Our only demand is that whoever it is, they should be arrested and brought to justice. Despite investigations by the police, CB-CID, and a Commission, led by retired judge M Sathyanarayanan, appointed by the Madras High Court, no one could find anything. We suspect the government is impeding the investigation results.” He added, caste divisions have deepened in the village since the incident.

Murugan KR, an auto driver from the Vengaivayal village, said: “The culprits should be caught, but we suspect whether the government has any intention to do it. The investigation is going on the wrong pathway. Our drinking water was polluted, yet we were treated as suspects. We are victims here. Casteism persists.”

Brief timeline of Vengaivayal case

December 26, 2022: Human faeces found in water tank supplying water to SC people in Vengaivayal.

February 8, 2023: National Commission for Scheduled Castes seeks action taken report from district collector and SP Vandita Pandey.

March 29: Madras High Court appoints a one-man commission led by its retired judge M Sathyanarayanan to probe the incident.

July 8:  SC residents of Vengaivayal take DNA test as per special court order.

November 25: The court issues summons to 10 people, five from the SC community in Vengaivayal and five caste Hindus from Muttukkadu for a polygraph (lie detector) test. But SC members express reservations about the test’s efficacy; court seeks a detailed explanation on the test from the CB-CID.

December 5,8,21: CB-CID team fails to appear in court, cites Chennai flood and the Investigation officer’s medical leave.

https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2023/dec/26/tamil-nadu-one-year-on-no-arrest-no-breakthrough-in-vengaivayal-case-2644952.html

(polygraph test, if done against the will or without consent of the individual, it is said, amounts to an infringement of Article 20(3) of the Constitution.) 

***                           ***

Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin had assured tough action, but no progress

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin on Jan 11  asserted in the Assembly, following a Special Call Attention Motion, that the State would deal with an iron hand against communally divisive, anti-social elements. The CM had  immediately deputed top officials to make an on the spot assessment.

From December 26, 2022 a medical team camped in the village, implementing disease preventive measures etc.

For all the 32 houses, proper drinking water supply is on from January 5, 2023, the CM said: “Action is being taken to build a brand new overhead water tank at a cost of Rs 7 lakh. Daily, drinking water is being supplied through lorries under the supervision of a sanitary inspector.”

A Special Investigation Team has been set up, which is probing the case.

“So far, 70 people have been questioned.” He quoted Periyar’s sayings aimed at fostering brotherhood etc..and said the government would deal with an iron hand against communally divisive, anti-social elements.

(PTI,  January 12, 2023)

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chennai/tamil-nadu-mk-stalin-human-feces-drinking-water-tamil-nadu-assembly-8376326/

The Gandharvakottai MLA, M. Chinnadurai (of CPI-M), an ally of DMK,  while speaking to IANS said, “The police have commenced an investigation and it seems that this is an act of miscreants.. Let the police find out the people behind this inhuman act and bring them before the law of the land.”

A local person, who does not want to be named, however told IANS, “This is not an act of miscreants, instead there is a planned move behind this. We got a water connection in 2017 after several years of struggle and now this has happened because someone does not like us getting a regular water supply and this is linked to caste. I expect the police to conduct an impartial investigation and bring the culprits before the public domain.”

It is to be noted that in several villages of Tamil Nadu, caste is a major factor that leads to fights and killings, and dropping human excreta in water tanks is also not the first time in the state.

(Indo-Asian News Service, 27th December 2022,) https://www.siasat.com/tn-faeces-found-in-sc-colonys-water-tank-probe-commenced-2488933/

 The Madras High Court in Madurai, had earlier ordered an investigation,  following a complaint by one Shanmugam. The complaint also mentions the practice of the ‘two-tumbler system’ in the area, for the upper and lower castes. Low castes are being banned from entering the temple. The public prosecutor told the court that three cases have been registered regarding the contamination of the water.

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The DMK CM was underplaying the gravity of the situation

The incident brought to light the caste based discrimination and related untouchability still prevalent here and there, the DMK CM said in the legislature. It is an under-statement. Reality is otherwise.

Tamilnadu is said to be among the best-administered states in India: The govt bluffs; it effectively kills ‘negative’ news, with local media’s collusion and cooperation.

We had published a series of articles that mentioned hundreds of incidents including 300 plus ‘honor killings’: Caste discrimination continues from the cradle to even after death.

 A few articles are mentioned below.

‘Honour killings’ in the land of ‘self-respect movement’ 06/12/2021

https://countercurrents.org/2021/12/honour-killings-in-the-land-of-self-respect-movement-part-1/

Social Justice in words, Brazen Casteism And Slavery in Practice , in Tamil Nadu,  07/01/2022

https://countercurrents.org/2022/01/social-justice-in-words-brazen-casteism-and-slavery-in-practice-in-tamil-nadu/

* “ There are 87 forms of untouchability and 28 forms of atrocities existing in Tamil Nadu”, says a survey by Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF).

* Upto 350 SC/ST persons were murdered in TN between Jan 2016 and Dec 2020, with only 13 convictions (TNM Sep 20, 2021, RTI data, from 35 out of 38 dts, NGO Evidence A Kathir. 229 cases still in courts.

* Out of 4000 elected dalit panchayat presidents, 1200  faced caste discrimination (R. Elango, Panchayat Academy, 2019).  Prof Palanithurai (Gandhigram) listed 13 types : they can’t hoist national flag; can’t sit in panchayat chair; denied official records, expenditure reports, decision-making powers, right to speak on social justice etc.

* SC-ST vigilance committee that ought to meet bi-annually, met thrice during 1995-2018.

Tamilnadu is claimed as an advanced, developed and progressive state, but its economy, polity and culture are marked by distinct features of semi-feudalism. 

Tamilnadu Governments are not merely callous, but complicit, wrote  Anand Teltumbde, after lot of observation. 

Such are the socio-political realities of Periyar’s land, a century after Vaikkom temple entry, led by Gandhi and Periyar, and after 56 years of uninterrupted rule by Periyarist and dravidian parties.The reforms, social and constitutional, evidently failed. In fact, electoral, caste-based vote-bank politics revived and aggravated caste animosities.    

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Show of Reform, but failure to nab culprits till now

In the aftermath of the contamination incident, the Pudukkottai district officials had facilitated the entry of Dalits from Vengavayal into an Ayyanar temple in Eraiyur where they had been denied entry for generations. Dalit residents of Vengavayal have alleged that since then, the people of Mutharaiyar and Agamudayar castes have stopped visiting the temple. 

The government organised a ‘Samathuva Pongal’ (Pongal of equality) on January 17, and according to the Dalit residents, Mutharaiyar and Agamudayar women refused to enter the temple for the event, and the few dominant caste people who participated in the event refused to eat the Pongal cooked for the occasion. 

A Fact Finding Committee (see below) found fault with the govt and said the above measures were diversionary, avoiding to nab the culprits.

The case was initially being investigated by an 11-member police team, but after allegations surfaced that the police officers were forcing the victims to confess that they themselves had contaminated the water tank, the case was transferred to the CB-CID, reported the web magazine, TNM, 15 Mar 2023. But allegations and doubts persisted against the CID too (see below.) .   

Political pressures are behind the investigations that led nowhere, latest reports show. Express News Service, very recently on 22nd December 2023 reported:

The hearing by a special court was adjourned for the third consecutive time – now to January 6, 2024 – after the prosecution informed the judge that the CB-CID investigating officer (IO) remained on medical leave.The IO was to present before court on Dec 22 detailed information on polygraph test that the CB-CID wants to subject 10 suspects to.  

On December 5, the police had expressed inability to appear before court as they were stranded in Chennai due to cyclone Michaung. On December 8, the public prosecutor informed that the IO, CB-CID DSP Palpandi, was on medical leave and sought a fresh date for hearing. Following this, the court adjourned the case to December 21. After being intimated during the latest hearing that the DSP remained on medical leave, Judge Jeyanthi S directed the CB-CID to appear on January 6. (We have to see if the New Year will be any different.)

Malarmannan, the advocate appearing for the suspects, argued that the CB-CID was intentionally deferring inquiry.

 Meanwhile, CB-CID sources said investigating officer, CB-CID DSP Palpandi had severe back pain and hence was on alternative medicine treatment in Madurai. In an interaction with Express, however, Palpandi explained the delay in nabbing the culprits, citing a lack of material witnesses.

***                ***

Politics, pressures, protests and threats

A tense atmosphere has prevailed in  Vengavayal viilage of Muttukadu panchayat and the adjacent Eraiyur ever since the incident. As police failed to nab culprits and delayed arrests, conflicts grew. 

Members of the dominant Mutharaiyar and Agamudayar castes from the neighbouring Eraiyur village launched a protest against the Dalits of Vengavayal. On March 14, nearly 300 people staged a protest in front of the Pudukkottai district Collector’s office, claiming that the Dalit residents have joined hands with ‘outsiders’ to allegedly hamper the ongoing CB-CID probe. They have even demanded that the government impose prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to restrict visitors to the village.  

thenewsminute.com, 15 Mar 2023, reported the temple entry,  facilitated by the authorities, which they were denied for generations. Dalit residents of Vengavayal however alleged that since then, the people of Mutharaiyar and Agamudayar castes have stopped visiting the temple. 

The government also organised a ‘Samathuva Pongal’(Pongal of equality) on January 17, which was not acceptable to some people:  according to the Dalit residents, Mutharaiyar and Agamudayar women refused to enter the temple for the event, and the few dominant caste people who participated in the event refused to eat the Pongal cooked for the occasion.

The protests were reportedly triggered by certain recent developments in the two villages. Last week, said the TNM report of 15 Mar 2023,  members of Periyar Ambedkar Makkal Kazhagam, a local anti-caste outfit, put up posters featuring the names of three minors from Eraiyur across Pudukkottai district, alleging that they were responsible for contaminating the water tank. The dominant caste protesters from Eraiyur have demanded action against the outfit for portraying the school-going boys as culprits.

In the posters, the Periyar Ambedkar Makkal Kazhagam also alleged that Dalit residents of Vengavayal, the victim village, were being repeatedly summoned by the police over the incident and being questioned for long hours, and demanded an end to this routine. The posters also demanded that the police return the mobile phones confiscated from the Dalits who were questioned over the incident. 

Speaking to TNM, Pudukkottai district secretary of Periyar Ambedkar Makkal Kazhagam PK Murugesan alleged that Muthiah (former Head of panchayat) had orchestrated the inhuman caste crime on purpose. “When our team talked to members of the Agamudayar, Mutharaiyar, and Dalit communities in both villages (Eraiyur and Vengavayal), they said that those three teenagers would often climb atop the water tank and spend a lot of time there,” Murugesan said.

He questioned the police inaction against the concerned panchayat president and block development officer on whose watch the crime was committed. He also demanded that the government appoint a Dalit person as the tank operator for the new water tank which is being constructed after the incident.(It may not be a real solution: After all, dalit individuals are hired, compromised, by the bigwigs; many atrocities happened despite them.)  

Apart from the posters, another reason for the protests was an attempt to break the water tank by members of the political party Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi (TVK). A day before the protest, on March 13, four TVK members attempted to break the overhead water tank in Vengavayal, calling it a symbol of casteism.

 Police detained the four TV  K functionaries — the party’s state youth wing secretary Muruganantham, Salem district youth wing secretary Kaviyarasan, Sivagangai town secretary Ajith Selvaraj and Puducherry youth wing secretary Arul Oli — and booked them under sections 283 (danger or obstruction in public way or line of navigation) and 427 (mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The police also heightened security around the water tank. 

TVK

TVK cadres attempting to break the water tank in Vengavayal (Photo courtesy, TNM,15 Mar 2023)

Speaking to TNM, panchayat president Padma’s husband Muthiah alleged that the police didn’t take sufficient action against the TVK cadres, and questioned how they could enter Vengavayal when police protection has been given to the village for nearly three months. Muthiah also alleged that the Vellanur police were reluctant to file cases against those who put up the posters implicating the three minors in the crime. However, a sub-inspector of Vellanur police station denied Muthiah’s claims and said that the station is yet to receive any complaints regarding the posters. Following Tuesday’s protest, Pudukkottai Collector Kavitha Ramu has reportedly assured action against those who put up the posters.

“The boys are facing a lot of humiliation [because of the posters] and have stopped going to school,” Muthiah alleged. However, PK Murugesan of Periyar Ambedkar Makkal Kazhagam, the outfit that put up the posters, alleged that the boys had stopped going to school much earlier, ever since the contamination came to light in December. 

Muthiah also alleged that since the caste crime was committed, many political organisations have been visiting the Dalit colony in Vengavayal and “instigating” the residents. He alleged that the frequent visits by politicians and activists had “disrupted” the daily life of residents of Eraiyur village, and the functioning of the Muthukadu panchayat.

Following the protest, Muthukadu panchayat president Padma and four more persons reportedly met Collector Kavitha Ramu and demanded that prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC be imposed on Vengavayal. 

https://www./tamil-nadu/tn-dominant-castes-object-activists-politicians-visiting-vengavayal-dalit-colony-174588

***                        ***

Fact-finding committee report indicates electoral political rivalries 

fft

A Fact-finding team visited the Vengavayal village on Jan 17. Photo courtesy: Evidence, Kathir.

Dalit Intellectual Collective released a 17-page fact-finding committee report (FFC)  on the issue on February 3, suggesting that the government to take action against everyone involved in it. The 11-member committee, led by Professor Lakshmanan, consisting of faculty members, research scholars from different education institutes, and journalists, made a field visit on Jan 17 and recorded the statements of the  villagers.

The team found no prior dispute between intermediate castes and Dalits that may have led to this caste crime…and indicates electoral political rivalries are apparently behind the incident. Dalits are often victims of electoral games of ruling class parties.  

The Report mentioned several incidents and personal disputes which could be the cause of this incident. It finds that the dispute between two AIADMK party functionaries, involved in local panchayat elections over the years, may have led to the inhuman act: one was Chidambaram, who has great support from the Vengavayal Dalits and was elected as Panchayat president of Muthukadu between 2006-2011 (Vengavayal falls under that  panchayat). He belongs to the Kallar community. Muthiah, who belongs to the Mutharaiyar community, was elected as Panchayat president in the 2011 elections. Now, his wife Padma is the president.

In the 2019 rural local elections, a relative of Chidambaram had contested against Muthiah’s wife Padma. Despite Padma being elected, Muthiah thought that the Dalits of Vengavayal voted for Chidambaram’s relative: many demands of the Dalit families in Vengavayal were largely neglected due to their close association with Chidambaram. In a Gram Sabha meeting on Gandhi Jayanti, the people of Vengavayal raised concerns over the funds allocated for their village, road facilities, and clean drinking water connections. But Muthiah, who was present in the meeting, allegedly did not pay heed and said, “I cannot accept your demands”.

Against this backdrop, the  water tank was contaminated with human excreta in the third week of December 2022. The FFC suggests that either Chidambaram or Muthiah could have done this to tarnish the other.

“In spite of having a good connection with Dalits in Vengavayal, Chidambaram refused to respond to our queries in all three attempts. He could’ve at least come forward and showed solidarity to those who were affected,” says Professor Lakshmanan, National Convenor of the Dalit Intellectual Collective.

Personal motive 

“All the fingers are pointed towards Muthiah. But when we approached him to record his response he said, we (Mutharaiyar) may not have a good rapport with the Dalits, but we don’t stoop so low to treat them this way,” Lakshmanan told TNM.

Apart from the power tussle with Chidambaram, Muthiah has a personal dispute with a tank operator Shanmugam, who belongs to the Keezh Valaiyar (sub-caste of Mutharaiyar) community. (One Shanmugam complained on the issue to the High Court.We do not know if it is the same person.)

Shanmugam, who operated a water tank in Vengavayal, tends to bring the issues the Dalits face to Muthiah, who however didn’t like Shanmugam’s affinity with the Dalits: “Why are you worrying so much for those Pariahs when they can not have the water…They didn’t vote for us, so just relax,”..this was the response from Muthiah when Shanmugam informed him that the motor to the water tank was not working.

Shanmugam and Muthiah maintained a good friendship until Shanmugam’s son fell in love with a woman who is a relative of Muthiah. Muthiah used his power to sack Shanmugam as the tank operator and replaced him with his own community members. But Shanmugam approached the Block Development Officer (BDO) and got a working order from him, which annoyed Muthiah. He lodged a complaint against Shanmugam, and Shanmugam sought help from the villagers of Vengavayal, following which they announced a protest against Muthiah. The report cites this as one of the factors which might have led to the caste crime so that a protest could be avoided. 

DMK’s silence: The govt plays reformist games but avoids punishment  

The FFC condemned the district administration which distracted the issue and focused on the temple entry of the Dalits and the double tumbler system, instead of finding the perpetrators who mixed feces with drinking water. The committee also condemned the silence of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the ruling party of the state, alleging that the  officials forced the Vengaval villagers to participate in the Samathuva Pongal, which was boycotted by Mutharaiyar and Agamudayar communities.

The committee urged the  government to take action against everyone involved in the crime. It also made 20 recommendations to the government, including compensations and medical expenses to victims.  It also asked  Rs 1,20,000 to each resident of the village as per the SC ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 2015. It asks the government to put a white paper on what the Department of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare has done in the past 10 years. It urged the government to sack all the members of the SC/ST commission as nobody from the commission visited Vengavayal, a “ most atrocity-prone village”, since the incident came to light on December 24, 2022.

( for more on the report visit https://www.thenewsminute.com/tamil-nadu/blame-game-anti-dalit-sentiments-report-studies-reasons-behind-vengavayal-caste-crime-172872)  

All this happens in a State that had non-Brahmin CMs since 1920, for 13 years until 1937; and of course Periyarist CMs for 55 years uninterruptedly, who were preceded by non-Brahmin Kamaraja Nadar, a top Congress leader. 

 Arguments for and against the caste census are going on even as General Election 2024 is very near, due this summer. Even BJP leaders ( for instance one Minister from UP) said they are not against it. It is part of the power games in which the poor and dalit masses are no more than ‘voting cattle’.  

Judge Jeyanthi S directed the CB-CID to appear on January 6 to advance the case in the court. We have to see if the New Year will be any different in this case.

Ramakrishnan is a political observer who contributed to the countercurrents.org. He wrote a series of articles on caste oppression under the Periyarist ruling classes of Tamilnadu.

Tamilnadu’s Caste mafia has deep roots and thrives by patronage  of ruling parties, 26/03/2022.

https://countercurrents.org/2022/03/tamilnadus-caste-mafia-has-deep-roots-and-thrives-by-patronage-of-ruling-parties/

Brazen and unchecked casteism, even in schools of Periyarist Tamil Nadu, Dalit teen and sister hacked by dominant caste students 19/08/2023.

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