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Columns
The Chagliars of Govindapuram
 
For the atrocious crime of drinking water from his landlord’s well,Perumal, a Chaglian, lost his legs. On hearing that an untouchable had polluted his well, Gounder flew into a rage and punishment was instantaneous. He cut off Perumal’s legs and his goons threw the dismembered legs into the Meenkara river.

It was the extremity of thirst that made Perumal draw water from his landlord’s well. Chaglians are still treated as an untouchable caste.The hard-dying social prejudices have always kept them at the bottom rung. As he was an untouchable, Perumal should have drawn his water from the water hole where the cattle came to drink. He was a slave and slaves did not deserve better treatment. From the point of view of the landlord, an untouchable defiling his well was an unpardonable crime.

Chaglians enjoy no more civil rights than yoked oxen. They are not to hold their head high; they are not allowed to draw water from the wells belonging to the upper castes; A Chaglian’s tongue may get
parched at the root; while working in the scorching sun, he might collapse in the paddy field and die. But fate has decreed that he should not slake his thirst if it means drawing water from the landlord’s well.

Perumal was 19 when Gounder cut off his legs and ejected him into the streets, where he was to eke out a precarious living. He earned his keep by working as a cobbler. For years he could be seen crawling on the haunches along the streets of the Kollamkode town.

Sivaraj and Muthukesh of Govindapuram Colony are the descendants of the Perumal and like Perumal they too should reel under the yoke of caste based discrimination. Resentment is smouldering in their minds. This is how they reacted to questions on their condition.: “Things have not changed since Perumal’s days. Let alone drinking water, evenfor our clothing we are at the mercy of other people.” It may sound
incredible that untouchability still persists in various forms even now in Kerala.

Members of the Chaglia caste, now living in Govindapuram village of Kerala, South India have been all these years little better than slaves, for all practical purposes. In the little villages that lie close to pollachi in Tamilnadu there live hundreds of Chaglians who are victims of untouchability and social ostracism. They are excluded from social contacts with others and are discriminated against in various ways. At teashops Gounders are honoured guests and they are served tea in gleaming steel tumblers.

Chaglians are not welcome inside the teashop. He should crouch in the courtyard and drink his tea from glass tumblers. He should get lost the moment he finishes his drink. What if a Chaglian wants to have his hair cut? They are unwelcome in barbershops, for contact with a Chaglian’s body will pollute the comb
and the scissors. Tailors keep the Chaglians outside their shops and stitch their clothes to approximate sizes. Chaglians buy used clothes at wayside markets in Pollachi. At ration shops they do not get the
full quantity of the rice and kerosene they are entitle to. Mostly it
is short weight.

Chaglians are not free to raise their voice against the injustice they are subjected to. A word of protest and he will lose his job. Loss of job means loss of the means of subsistence. The only way out in such a
situation is to leave the place. Chaglians came to Palghat from Tamilnadu as bonded labourers in the 1950s having been brought there by the upper caste landlords.

The new generation may claim that untouchability is no longer practised in the country but the landlords’ premises are out-of-bounds for the poor Chaglians. They might draw water from the Palmyra troughs that store water for the animals. They must work from seven in the morning till late in the night. A male Chaglian gets Rs 50 by way of wages; a woman gets Rs 30 .

Ayyappan, a 13 year old boy, sipped a cup of tea sitting with his legs crossed at the tea shop near the Govindapuram bus stand. The Gounder beat him up for this ‘temerity’. Murukesan, too, was beaten up. His
offence?

He collected water from the landlord’s tap instead of getting it from the waterhole for the cattle. Besides being beaten up, Murukesan was threatened that he would be done away with if ever the Gounders happen to see him again.

Even Gounder’s cattle enjoy precedence over the Chaglians. A bull may come charging against him but a Chaglian is not supposed to beat it off; if he can, he might dodge the animal. The work he has to carry
out includes watering the coconut palms, ploughing up the ground, and
collecting cow-dung.

While at work the Changlians are supervised by the landlord’s goons with the assistance of dogs. Bonded labour begins at the age of ten and ends only with the slave’s death. If a Chaglian worker dies, the
Changlian landlord would not even the pay the courtesy of a visit. A dead Changlian is not entitled even to a proper grave. Rains wash away the dead bodies from their shallow graves, which are scarcely more than one foot in depth.

Occasionally, the river carries a dead body to the Meenkara reservoir. Here there is the danger of real pollution since the water supply schemes of Meenkara, Muthalamala and Kollenkode
draw water from this reservoir. Gounder’s dogs and poultry are better fed than the poor Changlian children. Would that the Gounders be pleased to spare for the Changlian children a part of the food they
lavish on their animals.

There are more than a thousand Chaglians in the Ambetkar Colony at Govindapuram. If they are to depend on the government water supply,they will go without water for twenty eight days a month. So naturally
they have to depend on the water tank for the animal’s in the Gounder’s premises. The water supply scheme in Ambelkar Colony tells many a story of corruption. The pump there is not powerful enough to
lift water to the hill top tank. And there is nobody to bring the erring officials to book.

The black soil of Govindapuram is soaked in the Chaglians’ blood and sweat. The landlords raise corn, groundnut, pulses and paddy in the rich fields there. The coconut palms provide surprisingly high yield.
But Gounder would allow anyone to take so much as a windfall. He once thrashed Meenachi after tying her to a tree for taking a coconut. Her child once broke a ear of corn from the field. As the child was too
small to be punished, Gounder contented himself by awarding the punishment to Meenachi.

Having been maltreated like street dogs, the Chaglians are migrating to Tamilnadu and other places for their survival. For example, Poomathi, wife of Kathirvel, of M. Puthur has left for Bangalore to work as a domestic servant. She simply could not put up with the segregation on the basis of caste. Poomathi once went to the Badrakali temple at Meenkara to fulfil a certain vow . The priest stopped her at the threshold. He asked her to leave the offerings at the doorstep and leave the place lest she should pollute the whole temple.

Poomathi burst into tears and cried out to the gods. With tears in her eyes she asked the priest: “How come that neither my offering nor my money pollutes you here. But my presence does. Right?” She never went to that temple again.For the atrocious crime of drinking water from his landlord’s well, Perumal, a Chaglian, lost his legs. On hearing that an untouchable had polluted his well, Gounder flew into a rage and punishment was instantaneous. He cut off Perumal’s legs and his goons threw the dismembered legs into the Meenkara river.

It was the extremity of thirst that made Perumal draw water from his landlord’s well. Chaglians are still treated as an untouchable caste. The hard-dying social prejudices have always kept them at the bottom rung. As he was an untouchable, Perumal should have drawn his water from the water hole where the cattle came to drink. He was a slave and slaves did not deserve better treatment. From the point of view of the
landlord, an untouchable defiling his well was an unpardonable crime.

Chaglians enjoy no more civil rights than yoked oxen. They are not to hold their head high; they are not allowed to draw water from the wells belonging to the upper castes; A Chaglian’s tongue may get parched at the root; while working in the scorching sun, he might collapse in the paddy field and die. But fate has decreed that he should not slake his thirst if it means drawing water from the landlord’s well.

Perumal was 19 when Gounder cut off his legs and ejected him into the streets, where he was to eke out a precarious living. He earned his keep by working as a cobbler. For years he could be seen crawling on the haunches along the streets of the Kollamkode town.

Sivaraj and Muthukesh of Govindapuram Colony are the descendants of the Perumal and like Perumal they too should reel under the yoke of caste based discrimination. Resentment is smouldering in their minds. This is how they reacted to questions on their condition.: “Things have not changed since Perumal’s days. Let alone drinking water, even for our clothing we are at the mercy of other people.” It may sound incredible that untouchability still persists in various forms even now in Kerala.

Members of the Chaglia caste, now living in Govindapuram, M. Puthur and Meenkara, have been all these years little better than slaves, for all practical purposes. In the little villages that lie close to pollachi in Tamilnadu there live hundreds of Chaglians who are victims of untouchability and social ostracism. They are excluded from social contacts with others and are discriminated against in various ways.

At teashops Gounders are honoured guests and they are served tea in gleaming steel tumblers. Chaglians are not welcome inside the teashop. He should crouch in the courtyard and drink his tea from glass
tumblers. He should get lost the moment he finishes his drink. What if a Chaglian wants to have his hair cut? They are unwelcome in barbershops, for contact with a Chaglian’s body will pollute the comb and the scissors. Tailors keep the Chaglians outside their shops and stitch their clothes to approximate sizes. Chaglians buy used clothes at wayside markets in Pollachi. At ration shops they do not get the full quantity of the rice and kerosene they are entitle to. Mostly it is short weight.

Chaglians are not free to raise their voice against the injustice they are subjected to. A word of protest and he will lose his job. Loss of job means loss of the means of subsistence. The only way out in such a
situation is to leave the place.

Chaglians came to Palghat from Tamilnadu as bonded labourers in the 1950s having been brought there by the upper caste landlords. They are toiling it out in the fields of these wealthy classes. We have had a succession of governments but salvation continues to elude the Chaglians and Govindapuram.

The new generation may claim that untouchability is no longer practised in the country but the landlords’ premises are out-of-boundsfor the poor Chaglians. They might draw water from the Palmyra troughs that store water for the animals. They must work from seven in the morning till late in the night. A male Chaglian gets Rs 50 by way of wages; a woman gets Rs 30 . A little quantity of rice water served in an earthen pot with the brim missing—Gounder’s generosity does not extend beyond that. Chaglians and the other tribal communities like Erawater and Manaser are educationally backward. Most of them drop out
at the fourth standard.

Ayyappan, a 13 year old boy, sipped a cup of tea sitting with his legs crossed at the tea shop near the Govindapuram bus stand. The Gounder beat him up for this ‘temerity’. Murukesan, too, was beaten up. His
offence? He collected water from the landlord’s tap instead of getting it from the waterhole for the cattle. Besides being beaten up, Murukesan was threatened that he would be done away with if ever the Gounders happen to see him again. Even Gounder’s cattle enjoy precedence over the Chaglians. A bull may come charging against him but a Chaglian is not supposed to beat it off; if he can, he might dodge the animal. The work he has to carry out includes watering the coconut palms, ploughing up the ground, and collecting cow-dung.

While at work the Changlians are supervised by the landlord’s goons with the assistance of dogs. Bonded labour begins at the age of ten and ends only with the slave’s death. If a Chaglian worker dies, the Changlian landlord would not even the pay the courtesy of a visit. A dead Changlian is not entitled even to a proper grave. Rains wash away the dead bodies from their shallow graves, which are scarcely more than one foot in depth. Occasionally, the river carries a dead body to the Meenkara reservoir. Here there is the danger of real pollution since the water supply schemes of Meenkara, Muthalamala and Kollenkode
draw water from this reservoir.

There are more than a thousand Chaglians in the Ambetkar Colony at Govindapuram. If they are to depend on the government water supply, they will go without water for twenty eight days a month. So naturally
they have to depend on the water tank for the animal’s in the Gounder’s premises.

Reji Joseph


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