Caste Discrimination

Dalits in this Kerala village are refusing to bury the dead of upper caste Hindus

The Chakkliya community of Govindapuram in Palakkad district says it is being treated as untouchable.

We have decided not to bury the mortal remains of upper caste people from now on. They want us to bury their dead bodies. But we remain untouchables for them. We do not want to continue this.  

These are the words of Senthil Kumar, who lives in Ambedkar Colony of Govindapuram village in Muthalamada gram panchayat of Kerala’s Palakkad district.

Ambedkar Colony was settled in 1982 after the Congress government of K Karunakaran allotted 0.03 acres of land to 50 Chakkliya families. The colony expanded over the years as more Scheduled Caste families received title deeds. Now 450 families and nearly 1,500 people live here. There are 133 Chakkliya families while the rest belong to the Ervallan community.

The colony, situated on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, earned infamy recently when the Chakkliyas alleged that upper caste Hindus, mainly the wealthy Gounder community, were treating them as untouchables.

The allegation was made publicly on June 5, barely a week after the state government celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pandi Bhojanam, a communal feast organised by the social reformer Sahodaran Ayyappan that had unleashed a movement against caste discrimination in Kerala.

But Kumar insisted that the practice has been going on for years in Govindapuram and that his Chakkliya community, considered the “lowest” among the Scheduled Castes, was bearing the brunt. “The Chakkliyas can draw water from only one tap at the public tank near the colony,” he said. “The second tap is unofficially earmarked for the use of upper caste Gounder community. If we touch their utensils, they will pour all of the water out and refill the tank again. We are not supposed to go near it even if it is not used.”

Kumar is secretary of the Ambedkar Dalit Samrakshana Sangham, an organisation formed by residents of the colony to empower the Dalits.

Ambedkar Colony is home to 133 Chakkliya families. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen
Ambedkar Colony is home to 133 Chakkliya families. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Old wounds

“Tea shops here used to keep two sets of glasses to serve tea, one for the Gounders and Ezhavas and the other for lower castes,” said S Sivarajan, a leader of the Sangham. They abandoned the practice just 10 days ago after the issue caught attention of the national media.

The Chakkliyas would not even get their hair cut before 2004. “Barber shop owners would not say anything explicitly,” Sivarajan said. “Instead, they would cite flimsy reasons like their scissors were not sharp, or that somebody else was waiting in the queue.”

For a long time, Sivarajan said, the “people did not show the courage to raise their voice against these practices”. “They took it in their stride,” he added. “But the scenario changed after the Chakkliya forcefully entered the barber shops and insisted on getting their hair cut.”

Sivarajan said his community was not allowed to enter the village temple either. “We found a solution by building our own Madurai Veeran Temple inside the colony in 2012,” he said.

Lunch being cooked outside Madurai Veeran Temple. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen
Lunch being cooked outside Madurai Veeran Temple. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

New conflict

What forced Ambedkar Colony’s residents to publicly decry caste discrimination early this month was an altercation over an inter-caste marriage between an Ezhava boy and a Chakkliya girl on May 27. The Ezhavas belong to the Other Backward Classes.

Sivarajan alleged that the Ezhavas and the Gounders began to threaten the Chakkliya community. “They came to the colony at midnight, knocked on the doors,” he said. “We were frightened.”

To escape the bullying, men began to sleep at the temple while women slept together in a couple of houses nearby. They cooked food in a make-shift kitchen outside the temple and ate togegther.

On May 5, they invited district leaders of all political parties to celebrate Pandi Bhojanam. But none leader except the Congress’ VT Balram turned up for fear of backlash from the caste Hindus. Balram was defiant and accompanied the Chakkliyas to draw water from the public tap that was used by the Gounder community. “The situation at the colony was serious and it was a shame for progressive Kerala,” he was quoted as saying.

M Radhakrishan, the vice president of the Muthalamada gram panchayat who represents Ambedkar Colony ward rubbished the allegations of caste discrimination. “There was an altercation between some Chakkliya youngsters and the Ezahava boy who married the Chakkliya girl,” he said. “Congressmen are spreading lies to tarnish the image of the gram panchayat ruled by Left Democratic Front. Everything is normal here.”

On Wednesday, however, the Kerala High Court ordered that police protection be given to members of the colony so they could return to their homes. “We are happy with the court ruling,” said Kumar. “We hope the police will protect us from attacks.”

The dilapidated house of Veerammal in Ambedkar Colony. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen
The dilapidated house of Veerammal in Ambedkar Colony. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

State of neglect

The Chakkliyas accuse the state government of being blind to their desperate condition, not just socially but economically as well.

Veerammal, 60, fears the roof of her old house may collapse during the monsoon. “The roof tiles are broken and rain water seeps through, turning my home into a cesspool,” she said. “The panchayat has been ignoring our requests to repair our houses. It may collapse any time. I am scared to live inside.”

Many houses in the colony do not have toilets, forcing the people to defecate in the open.

Another resident Chithrakala complained that the Below Poverty Line ration cards of many of them have been changed to Above Poverty Line cards. “All of us are BPL families,” she said. “We don’t know why the government changed our status. Our income hasn’t gone up so far.”

Chithrakala shows her new APL ration card. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen
Chithrakala shows her new APL ration card. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Men from the colony work as daily wage labourers, mostly in the farms of the Gounders. “We are jobless for the last 10 days after the untouchability issue came up,” said Prabhakaran, a labourer. “We are living at the mercy of the Gounder landlords. We hope they will give us jobs soon.”

The difficult living conditions of her community angers Thirumal, a 72-year-old woman, no end. “Don’t we belong to this land?’ she asked, while eating lunch outside Madurai Veeran Temple. “Are we untouchable to both the government and the Gounders?”

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.


As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.


So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.


As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”


By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.