Dalit political parties and activists have demanded proactive measures to prevent discrimination against elected Dalit representatives.
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi general secretary D. Ravi Kumar said incidents such as the Aathuppakkam Panchayat president V. Amirtham being prevented from hoisting the national flag on Independence Day, reiterated the importance of appointing Scheduled Caste panchayat secretaries along with reservations of constituencies / wards.
According to him, every Dalit panchayat president faces caste discrimination. He called for a district-level advisory committee to guide, assist and resolve such issues. “Though we have reservation in the appointment of panchayat secretaries, sufficient Dalits have not been posted. I request the government, which is fighting for OBC reservation in all-India quota medical seats, to look into this and fill the backlog vacancies,” the Villupuram MP said.
Dalit social activist I. Pandiyan said there were several instances of discrimination against elected Dalit representatives in the last few decades. But these are often perceived as ‘political issue’ rather than as a social issue.
“Now, we need to move from symbolic representation to active representation. So, it is absolutely important to have Dalit panchayat secretaries supporting the Dalit panchayat presidents,” he said.
Mr. Pandiyan said a ‘special cell’ should be set up to address the issues of discrimination faced by the elected representatives. District Collectors should hold ‘public hearing’ along with National Commission for Scheduled Caste in panchayats at least twice a year to understand and resolve caste discrimination.
“The administration has to take a pro-active approach. Filing cases is proving to be a mere formality. What we need is the administration to actively get involved and look into various instances of caste discrimination. The Collector should conduct ‘equality audit’ so that Dalit panchayat leaders can express their grievances and review their performances,” he said.
He added that while former Chief Ministers — M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa — had chaired just three ‘State-level monitoring and vigilance committee’ meetings, the incumbent Edappadi K. Palaniswami has not chaired it even once.
K. Samuel Raaj, general secretary, Untouchability Eradication Front, CPI (M), said that the sphere of influence of panchayat secretaries has grown in villages in the last few years.
“While appointing Dalits to the post of panchayat secretaries is important, it is also necessary to ensure that they are also given regular transfers just like other government officers. Otherwise, non-Dalit panchayat secretaries are likely to wield disproportionate influence in reserved panchayat seats,” he said.