'Untouchable' Families Flee Village In India En Masse To Escape Threats

Members of a Dalit population of a village in India's Dindigul district packed up their belongings and left their homes en masse Saturday to protest alleged violence committed against them by non-Dalit neighbors, according to local reports.

The group of about 200 untouchable families fled their village and sought shelter on a nearby hillside after several alleged threats, according to the Times of India. Police and local officials attempted to convince the Dalits to return to their homes to no avail. Mediation talks are expected to continue Sunday.

Animosity between the Dalits and members of the Vanniyar caste in area has been brewing since mid-summer. Police sources told The Hindu that the tension stems from an incident in July when several young Dalits wore T-shirts that sparked an altercation with non-Dalits. At the time, authorities arrested eight Vanniyar members for attacking the youth and ransacking their houses.

Another more recent quarrel that erupted between two adult members of the different castes also spurred untouchable families to construct fences around Dalit properties in a bid to keep their non-dDlit neighbors out, the Times News Network reports.

While officials hold that the issues between the groups in the area "snowballed" over a financial transaction, the friction comes in the context of long-standing social prejudices.

Discrimination based on caste is prohibited by India's constitution, yet in reality, many Dalits face discrimination on a daily basis. In a recent hearing in another district, the court heard cases of caste atrocities against Dalit women throughout India. One of the jury members, who also serves on India's National Advisory Council, noted that the series of cases serves as a wake up call.

"Let’s not tiptoe around this or try to be polite; we are a casteist society, deeply embedded in caste, class and community structures. We have to say loudly and without shame that our police, institutions and administration are casteist," Farah Naqvi said, according to The Hindu.