Dalits of Sogandi face the wrath of neighbouring village
On the evening of April 14, the Good Friday service across the road from Sogandi village’s Arul Nagar — 75 km south west of Chennai — was interrupted by police and revenue officials.
Arul Nagar residents say the interruption was unprovoked. The Kancheepuram district administration officials say that the attendees tried to scale the hill, at the foot of which the service was being held.
“The hill and land across the road in front of Sogandi are within Alagasamudram,” said K. Devendran of adjoining Alagasamudram village. District administration officials agree: the land is poramboke.
But for the people of Sogandi, this is irrelevant. “We have been worshipping on the hill for over 50 years,” M. Annammal of Arul Nagar said. But government land records do not indicate any such history.
With a few exceptions, Arul Nagar’s 100-odd Dalit families are Christians. The colony sits between Sogandi and Alagusamudram and is the only Christian settlement in what is otherwise a Vanniyar-dominated locality. Its residents can access the main road only by passing through Alagasamudram.
“My grandmother may have been a maid in houses in Alagasamudram, but we are no longer their slaves,” said a young girl.
After a pause, she said: “Their problem is with our caste. It is so much worse now that caste and religion have got mixed.”
Trouble had erupted on Christmas day last year too. Alagasamudram residents protested on the highway, demanding the removal of religious statues installed atop the hill, reportedly placed there a few days before Christmas. District administration officials removed all encroachments, except the shrine at the foot of the hill, towards the end of last year.
Good Friday reopened festering wounds. “Some residents of Sogandi started climbing the hill. Alagusamudram residents were already there, challenging them. This would have led to a law and order issue,” said an official. The hilltop had been declared a no-go area ahead of Good Friday; now, even the shrine is.
Arul Nagar has a church, built soon after the colony’s founding in the 1960s. Its residents, who moved out of Sogandi, had converted to Christianity.
The hill served as a bridge of sorts. “We have prayers on top of it during occasions like Pournami, Christmas, New Year and Palm Sunday. We even have a hill festival,” said a youngster of Arul Nagar.
On Monday, youngsters of Arul Nagar absconded fearing arrest over a stone pelting incident on Saturday that left three policemen injured. Not too long ago, a youngster from the village had been assaulted by men from Alagusamudram, and he was stripped and beaten besides being abused in casteist terms, villagers claimed.
Caste and religion are key issues, depending on which group is talking. While the Dalits believe it is a mix of caste and religion, in the Vanniyar-dominated Alagasamudram, they argue otherwise. “This is a religious issue,” said Mr. Devendran.
Perhaps, it is indeed a bit of both. The entrance to the village features a graffiti, attributed to the Pattali Makkal Katchi, that calls the village a ‘Vanniyar Fort’. Across the road flutters the Hindu Munnani flag.
The Hindu Munnani has organised at least three protests demanding the demolition of the shrine. Rocks on the disputed hill across the village, culverts and walls feature the Vaishnavite namam.