CHENNAI: A couple of weeks ago, when a group of dalits from R Palakuruchi village lodged a complaint with the police, alleging practise of the 'double-tumbler system' in the village, the non-dalits reacted in a strange way. They hiked the rate of tea served to dalits in village stalls.
The tea stalls started charging dalits Rs 7 for a glass of tea, costing just Rs 4 for a non-dalit. Since most of the tea-stalls are run by non-dalits, the dual price system has dealt yet another blow to the dalits who have been facing oppression in the remote areas of Tamil Nadu for long. However, K Gowri, sub-inspector at the Ulagampatti police station, where the complaint was lodged, claimed he was not aware of any hike in the price of tea for dalits. "We have to investigate and see whether any shop is selling tea at a higher rate to dalits," he said.
However, activists say the reason behind hiking the rate of tea is simple. If you hike the rate, no dalit will come and have tea. "The poor dalits can't afford to have tea by paying seven rupees. So instead of saying 'no' to serving tea to them, the shopowners have hiked the charge," says T L Ramu, activist and municipal councilor of S Puthur.
While every shop in R Palakuruchi keeps five 'steel' tumblers each for serving tea to dalits, the non-dalits are given tea in glass tumblers. "We are not allowed to sit on benches. We have been facing discrimination for a long time, but with this special rate for tea, its has reached another level," he says.
It all started on April 26 when a group of dalits complained to the police about the practise of 'double tumbler system' in the village. Out of vengeance, the non-dalits allegedly assaulted and tortured two dalits -- Manimuthu and Ganesan -- after tying them with a rope. A case was also filed in this regard and they were later rescued by the Ulagampatti police. The decision to hike the rate for tea followed soon after this incident. "We have arrested two people in connection with the assault case. We also called people from different groups and a warning was also issued," sub-inspector Gowri said.
"It's high time the concerned collector visited the place and ended the discrimination. Already, the two-tumbler system is prevalent in many places. Now the issue has become more serious with the hike in the price of tea served to dalits," said K Sundar, an activist based in Sivagangai.