A video that shows a funeral procession lowering the dead body of a Dalit off a bridge in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu has been widely shared online, amid reports they were forced to do so because they were denied access to the cremation site. The road to the site runs through private properties controlled by the "upper castes". However, local police and revenue officials have claimed the funeral procession had not been opposed.
"A decade ago, upper caste property owners fenced the area. We did not want to ask them. There are stairs from the bridge to come down but we can't carry the body. We want a road or a cremation site for us elsewhere," Vijay, a nephew of the deceased, told NDTV.
As many as 50 Dalit families live in the area. They normally bury their dead at a different site. However, in case of "unnatural deaths", as in this case, they cremate the body.
The deceased, Kuppan, 65, had died in an accident a few days ago.
Local officials claim the issue has never been raised over the past decade, as there were no "unnatural deaths". They have also said there was no request from the funeral procession to access the two private properties.
Furthermore, according to the District Collector A Shanmuga Sundaram, the cremation site, which is along the river bed, is unauthorised. However, he did say some arrangement could be made.
"We would initiate steps to acquire at least one piece of the land to provide them access. We would also provide a shed there," he told NDTV.
A probe has been ordered into the incident by B Priyanka, the sub-collector of Tirupattur taluk. "We are examining the situation. If required we would even find an alternate cremation site," she told NDTV.
Meanwhile, the ownership of the two private properties is under question.
The family of the deceased claim both are owned by members of upper castes, something local officials confirm. However, the District Collector says otherwise.
"They too belong to the same community. Although they've allowed in the past they've denied this time under instigation," he added.
Over the years Tami Nadu has been plagued by various forms of untouchability.
In three panchayats in Madurai district, the dominant Thevar community attempted to ban some people from contesting local body polls. Those who defied them, stood and won were eventually forced to resign. The southern districts also witnessed communal clashes in the 90s in which more than seventy people had lost their lives.
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