Mrach 10th, 2005 was the day when I was first introduced to the villagers by Periappa at Seerkalai amman temple (Thenur’s guarding diety). The main agenda at that meeting was on the kumbakishesham (consecration) of the temple and next was the introduction of me and about Payir.
Last night I was in an equally important village meeting for Payir. I had said earlier in one of my blogs that the perception about Payir by a section of the population (or a few villagers) has turned scathing. One major reason is concerning a funeral ground belonging to a section of the Dalit community. Our Trust’s (where primarily the hospital & learning center are located) geographical location is in such a way that we are on the way out from the village beyond the Dalit/SC Streets. Within the Dalit community, we have 3 primary sections - Pallar (PL), Paraiyar (PR) and Sakiliyar (has only a few families). Thenur (for about 800 families) has about 12 different funeral/burial grounds each for certain communities. One such funeral place - for the PR - was partly in the Trust property (my grand father had given a space 60 years before) and partly in the storm drain. after the hospital came up, the village decided to extend the road through SC street connecting to the main road.
As the funeral place was just about 100 m from the hospital and patients (or who ever needs to come to Payir) have to walk besides the funeral place, we proposed that it be shifted to an alternative place. This was when Periappa was alive. Anyway, after his demise, I took this up around mid last year. Now, the complexities that needs to be understood is, an alternative place can not one where the dead body be taken through any of the streets belonging to any of the other castes which are supposedly upper in the ladder - PL or otherwise! And there are very few Government vacant lands around. One possible location was just on the main road opposite to the hospital but that place was in front of a farm bought (after the hospital came up) by a person belonging to a Dalit - PL. This guy became our trouble monger. He started weaving stories - pitching caste and personal integrity factors.
So, I had asked for a public debate on this matter. Our point was to look at the long term as many times villagers/mainly patients and women were wary of walking past a burning body or till the point it was fresh in their minds. But funeral places are always a very emotional stuff for villagers! To cut the story short, at the Panchayat level Gram Sabha it was decided to call a community level meeting (were all caste groups/heads are represented). Now, these community meetings itself is an interesting one. First, the heads of all castes belonging to other than Dalits are called for what is called a "vella modu" meeting. After a decision is taken within this group, the Dalit heads are called for - either the same day or on another!!!
This was the meeting I came from last night. The two primary agenda of this meeting, similar to the one on March 05, was about organizing a festival for our Seerkali amman temple and next this!! I represented Payir and put my case through. Also, took the occasion to ask the bigger question within me on how and why did the perspective of Payir as their own community organization had changed. The meeting went well and they agreed on 2 things....see, if an acceptable alternate land can be found and next call for another meeting with the representation from the Dalit groups and put a suggestion through to consider shifting the funeral place.
During this discussion and what I have seen in the last couple of months, this matter has taken a lot of caste over-tones. Since, I come from the upper rung of the caste structure and I being the face of Payir, some have taken this issue of between upper and lower caste. Also, many times during the discussion, judgemental remarks based on caste has been passed.
So many questions crop within me on this trial! hmm, hope to find answers before the next big meeting!