Who are Arunthathiyar Dalit?
Arunthathiyar Dalits are most oppressed among the dalits. They live in miserable conditions working as manual scavengers, cobblers(shoe repair), agricultural labourers, construction workers. Arunthathiyar are treated as untouchables not only by the upper caste but also by the other Dalit subgroups. Hence they are called Dalit among Dalits.
Year 2001 population census of India
Total population in state of TamilNadu= 62,405,679(about 62.5 million)
Twenty (20% ) of TamilNadu’s population is Dalit or SC
Among Dalits, total population of Arunthathiyar dalits is about 80 lakhs
Geographical Location of Arunthathiyar dalit
Eighty lakhs(80,00000) of Arunthathiar dalit of TamilNadu state, live mostly in western districts namely- Coimbotore, Erode, Salem, Dharmapuri, Namakkal , Karur, Dindigul, Nilgris, and Madurai.
Various names and Languages spoken by Arunthathiyar
In TamilNadu, Arundhathiyar Dalits are also called as Chakkiliar, thoti, pagadai, panchama, puthurai vannan vettan , adi andra, adi Karnataka, adi dravida and madari . In Karnataka state, they are known as Madiga, Mangs .
At home they mostly speak Telugu or Tamil, but go Tamil schools and follow Tamil customs.
Key challenges faced by Arunthathiyar Dalit
Untouchability , Physical violence ,Verbal abuse
Dominant upper caste people do not allow Arunthathiyar Dalits to enter into village main temple for worship.
Arunthathiyar are forced to live in segregated colonies called as cherry (in rural areas) or slums( in urban areas). They have separate water wells, and burila grounds. In rural areas, they are not allowed to touch or draw water from public village wells, or public water pipes. They have separate wells. In hotels and tea shops, they are discriminated and served in separate tumblers(or glasses) and plates. These untouchability practices degrade, shame and suppress their spirits and fill them with feelings of inferiority, insult and humiliation. According to SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989, such untouchability practices are punishable offense.In spite of the legal ban, the upper caste people continue to practise untouchability. When the Arunthathiyar Dalit stand up for their rights and protest against the practice of untouchability, upper caste people threaten and intimidate them with physical violence , and use caste based insulting comments and degrading sexual remarks.
Sexual abuse and exploitation in workplace
When Arunthathiyar Dalit families have difficult financial times to feed the familiy, they get loans for high interest from the upper caste landlord/employer. With their minimum low wages, every month they pay back their accumulating interest . Even after several years they are never able to repay their principal loans . So the husband and wife and children go into bonded labour and start working for low wages to get out of the debt.
In Tamilnadu 95% of scavengers are Arunthathiyar dalit. Among scavengers, 33% of them are women.
Their work involves manual cleaning of open toilets, sweeping streets and public places. Some of them work in cremation grounds burning the dead bodies.
Only 10 % of Arunthathiar population own a small piece of land. Most of them are landless labourers. They work as temporary coolies for minimum low ages in agricultural farms, stone quarries, brick industry. Few months every year they are jobless and hence migrate to urban areas and other villages in search of jobs.Due to extreme poverty they do into debts.
Alcoholism is a major social problem among both men and women. About 90% of Arunthathiyar Dalit adults are addicted to alcohol. About 60% of their daily wages are spent on consumption of alcohol, which leads to deterioration of health, negligence of child care and continuation of poverty.
Girls marrying early -To escape from sexual abuse in workplace, many Arunthathiyar dalit teenage girls are forced to marry at very young age of 13- 18 years . Due to lack of education and health awareness , they get pregnant soon after marriage in very young age Their health often deteriorates very quickly because of repeated pregnancies at closer intervals. Arunthiyar girls are illiterate and unskilled, and the cycle of poverty continues into the next generation.
Only 1.75 % people of Arunthathiyar community are literates while 98.16% are illiterates. Only 0.16% of the people have at least completed their 10th std in school. Because of the poor socio economic status of the community the children are very rarely sent to elementary school. Even when they go, they drop out of school. Most of the children in the rural areas work as bonded labourers in the agricultural farms of the upper caste. Children in the urban areas work as temporary workers in restaurants / hotels, automobile mechanic shed, and garages Even with much difficulty if they complete 12 std, they are unable to pursue college education due to poor economical stability.
School drop out
Children are teased and taunted in schools and streets by other upper caste children because their parents are performing low menial jobs such as scavenging and shoe repair. The abusive remarks are hurtful and little children refuse to go to school. Sometimes due to poverty and low socio economic status , the children are not sent to school or drop out of school in middle school.
Lack of unity
Arunthathiyar community does not have any political identity. they are depend on local upper community farm owners for their daily needs