Chennai: A shirt, the last one worn to work by his father earlier on Tuesday, was the only thing that Dinesh Kumar was holding on to when he accompanied his father’s body to the morgue of the Royapettah GH. A visibly upset Dinesh, who is a mechanic in a Japanese auto major’s service center, not only lost his father but also his paternal uncle and cousin in a man-made accident caused while cleaning a sewage collection chamber of the Dindigul Thalappakatti restaurant located on Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), at 9.30 am.
Dalits, Kumar, (48), his sibling Saravanan, (26) and their nephew Velmurugan, (29) — all residents of Kannagi Nagar — and Rajesh, (28), an employee of the restaurant, have been identified as the four who died in the mishap while Viji, (34), who lowered himself into the tank to try and save the others, was pulled out unconscious and was being treated in a hospital.
According to eyewitnesses, Velmurugan who opened the lid of the sewage chamber, fell into it after he was exposed to the obnoxious gases. As Velmurugan fell into the pit, Kumar and Saravanan lowered themselves but swooned inside. Rajesh, who was witnessing the event, jumped into the sewage chamber in his bid to save the trio and met with the same fate. Viji was the last to enter into the chamber and was stuck midway.
“Fire services pulled out Viji alive and the rest dead out of the sewage tank. His pulse was around 80” observed N Raja, relative of the deceased, and resident of Kannagi Nagar. “The locality has no government hospital or state-run school. The local police station operates the only community hall where 15,000 families live”, said SK Siva, district secretary, Tamil Nadu Untouchablity Eradication Front (TNUEF).
“With little work to do, they were being branded only as criminals. Kannagi Nagar stands as a classic example of urban untouchability by keeping the Dalits segregated. The locality has a total of 85 per cent Dalit population. Families relocated to Kannagi Nagar mostly can survive taking up conservancy work in IT & ITES firms on OMR. The dead trio and the fourth under treatment are part of 250 families relocated for developing Padmanabapuram park in Adyar in 2001", he added. Dinesh who had quit class XII said that his father would make between Rs 400 and 500. His elder brother is pursuing B.Sc II year at Madras Christian College. His uncle Saravanan got married only on September 9, 2015.