The Cuddalore Police in Tamil Nadu on Saturday arrested Sinduja, secretary of the Therku Thittai panchayat in the Mel Bhuvanagiri block, after an image went viral that showed its president Rajeshwari Saravana Kumar, a Dalit, sitting on the floor during panchayat meetings, The Hindu reported on Sunday.

The police also arrested Sugumar, a caste Hindu and member of ward number six, the newspaper said. Superintendent of Police M Sree Abhinav said Sugumar had threatened Saravana Kumar at panchayat meetings. A case was filed against Sinduja and panchayat vice president Mohan Raj under Section 3(1)(m) and (r) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

A photo of Saravana Kumar sitting on the ground while other members were seated on chairs at a panchayat meeting went viral on social media. Collector Chandra Sekhar Sakhamuri said that the Cuddalore administration was informed about the matter on Friday. He visited the panchayat along with Abhinav on Saturday, PTI reported.

Mohan Raj is absconding, and the police have launched a search. In her testimony, Saravana Kumar described the harassment and discrimination she had faced from caste Hindus, including Mohan Raj, especially after the photo went viral.

“I was not allowed to hoist the national flag during the Republic Day in January,” Saravana Kumar said. “The panchayat vice president said his father would hoist the flag instead. He and three other ward members, all caste Hindus, insulted me and forced me and the other Dalit ward member, Suganthi, to sit on the floor at meetings, while the rest sat on chairs.” The panchayat president also said she had not been allowed to sit in her office for the last three meetings.

The panchayat meetings were convened only by the vice-president, who said that “I am a woman and know nothing and should remain quiet”, she said. Saravana Kumar also alleged that Mohan Raj dared her to inform the authorities, claiming that they would do nothing about her complaint.

Abhinav told reporters that a number of police personnel have been deployed in the village to protect Saravana Kumar.

Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar called the incident “barbaric” and promised strict action against those responsible. He claimed that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government had given due respect and recognition for marginalised people. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi also criticised the incident.

Cadres of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi party and Left outfits gathered in front of the Buvanagiri police station in Cuddalore, demanding the arrest of the vice president and secretary.