When You Don’t Get What You Deserve, Fight for It: How this Dalit Woman Reclaimed Her Right to Hoist the Tricolour

Social Commentary

When You Don’t Get What You Deserve, Fight for It: How this Dalit Woman Reclaimed Her Right to Hoist the Tricolour

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Our country celebrated its 73rd Independence Day this year. But for one 62-year-old woman, the day turned out to be another reminder of evils that have plagued the country long before the day we sent the British back home.

Amrutham Amma, the president of a panchayat in Tamil Nadu was stopped from hoisting the flag at a school in her village this Independence Day, apparently by a few other upper-case Hindu panchayat members who didn’t want a Dalit woman to do the important job.

On Thursday, however, Amrutham asserted her citizenship. Surrounded by authorities, including police officers, and a few of her supporters, she finally went on to hoist the tricolour at her panchayat office.

“Today’s the real Independence Day for me. I have no words to describe my happiness,” she was quoted as saying after the event.

One panchayat secretary was, meanwhile, suspended for not allowing her to hoist the flag on Independence Day. Another two men were also arrested for attacking a reporter who tried to cover the caste discrimination in the village following the incident.

In later interviews, Amrutham Amma, who was elected as panchayat president last year on a seat reserved for the Scheduled Caste community, said the discrimination in her village was systemic.

Apart from being denied the few kilogrammes of rice that was given out as aid, she said her family has also faced threats to their lives, while she was once asked to vacate the chair reserved for panchayat leaders in her office only for being a Dalit woman.

This isn’t the first time she has been blocked from hoisting the tricolour either.

On Republic Day this year, she told reporters that she was verbally abused when she went up on stage by the former panchayat president V Haridoss. She quickly climbed down from the podium. “It was clear from the way they looked at me that they did not want me to get on stage,” she was quoted as saying in The News Minute.

This discrimination, she said, has also stopped her from carrying out basic development projects in the village, which included monitoring the work undertaken under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Hopefully, now that action has been taken against a few authorities, Amrutham Amma will be able to continue working for the people who elected her. However, given our country’s history of caste discrimination, it may be too early to tell.