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July  2000
Dalit Drishti

Relentless attacks on dalits

Murders and attacks on dalits continue unabated, 
in UP and in Tamil Nadu 

Three Dalit youths were  killed in the most brutal  fashion by members of the  Vanniar caste, on the night  of May 26 at Puliyangudi a small village near Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu simply because the Dalits of the village had been objecting to the illicit arrack business in the area dominated by the Vanniarr caste. Vellaian, Mathiyalagan and Gandhi, the three Dalit youths, all of them agricultural labourers, were killed while sleeping under a tree. 

Persons belonging to the Vanniar caste control the illicit arrack business in that area. Dalit women had been objecting to the illicit arrack business. In the last week of May, unknown persons destroyed some pots containing illicit arrack. The Vanniars summoned a meeting of the village panchayat, and ordered Dalits to pay Rs. 5,000 as penalty for destroying the arrack pots. But Dalits denied their involvement and refused to pay the amount. 

Meanwhile, a few days later a youth belonging to the Vanniar caste came to the Dalit hamlet in the night and attempted to rape a Dalit girl named Prabhavathi. Relatives of the girl with the help of the others caught him and tied him to a tree. Later he escaped. Next morning four Dalit women went to a Pandian who is the husband of the Panchayat board president and urged his intervention. His advice to Dalits was not to register a police complaint about the attempt to rape. In response to the Dalits ‘exercising restraint’, the very next night these murders took place! 

Puliyangudi is a village notorious for communal violence. About 120 Dalit families live there, but the strength of the Vanniars with 1,500 families is much more. The ill treatment of Dalits at the hands of Vanniars is common. Only last year, Vanniar boys raped two Dalit girls. Each time the Dalits have been coerced into silence fearing reprisals. 

Way back in 1946, an ex–serviceman named Vadamalai belonging to the Dalit community was tied up to a tree and tortured. His offence? Growing a moustache! Then, Dalit men were not allowed to grow moustaches, wear chappals or new dresses. Dalit women were not allowed to cover the upper part of their bodies. 

After the Vadamalai incident, Dalit leader L. Elayaperumal went there evacuated the Dalits and settled them in a nearby village called Pillaiyarthangal. The district authorities ordered the Vanniars to pay Rs.1,000 to Dalits as compensation and resettled them. But even now the ill treatment continues. 

The nexus between the illicit arrack sellers, politicians, and the local police does much harm to innocent people. In the last two years, about 20 Dalits have been killed in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu. In the month of May alone, five Dalits have been killed. Members of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) visited the village, Puliyangudi on May 28, 2000 and met the parents of the victims. Completely paralysed with fear they pleaded for an alternate place to live in security. The Dalits named 28 persons involved in the violence. 

A case has been filed under section 302 of the IPC and 3(2)(5) of the SC/ST P.A.ACT 1989. Following a call for a protest by the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), the police arrested three innocent persons and compensation paid to the victims’ families. But the demand for a CBI inquiry was rejected. 

A spate of murders of Dalits in UP
A spate of killings of Dalits in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh during May put the BJP’s Ram Prakash Gupta government in a tight spot. On May 1, the police allegedly shot four landless labourers belonging to the Jatav community dead in Tundla (Ferozebad district), eager to ‘solve’ a dacoity case. Even after the killings, the district administration would not hand over the bodies of the dead. When close relatives gheraoed the police station to demand release of the bodies they were mercilessly thrashed; even the widows of the victims were not spared.

Within days, Hardoi was rocked by more Dalit deaths when a policeman belonging to the upper caste shot dead four Dalit youth. The motive? To avenge the humiliation he faced from his own community members when his daughter eloped and married a Dalit. While a debate raged in the state Assembly, another Dalit was killed in Barabanki over an eve-teasing incident. According to newspaper reports, delayed police action was in large measure responsible for the casualty. Meanwhile, in another group clash, ten Dalit huts were set ablaze at Malihabad during another group clash.

What is behind the sudden spate of attacks? The former BJP chief minister, Kalyan Singh had withdrawn a government circular directing all government officials, including the police, to make proper use of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The impact of this decision has been to give the police a free hand in targeting Dalits, according to some. The BSP leader, Mayawati has alleged that there was a distinct pattern in the killings: Chamars and Jatavs being specially targeted since they were far more politically organised and conscious.

Dare challenge social oppression? 
A violent attack on Dalit homes in the Themmavur village of Tamil Nadu’s Pudukkottai district took place on May 17 simply because of the Dalits refusal to subject themselves to rites of symbolic oppression during temple festivals. About 30 Dalits, including seven women, were admitted with serious injuries to the government hospital at Pudukkottai following the attack; 30 others also had serious injuries while 36 homes of Dalits were badly damaged with food and utensils being looted.

The Themmavur panchayat, located 12 kilometres from Chengipatti in Thanjavur district, consists of 18 hamlets with a total population of 3,000. Of these, four are exclusively Dalit hamlets; the rest have no Dalits living there at all. There are 500 Dalits in Themmavur village, one–sixth the total population of the total village. The proportion of Dalits to non–Dalits is the same in the Kunnandarkovil blocks and to the district as a whole.

For four years now, Dalits have refused participation in the temple rites that are symbolic of their oppression as a caste. There are two temples in the village dedicated to Mari Amman and Kali Amman. For the past four years, Dalits have refused to beat drums during the temple festivals and death ceremonies, tasks that, in Dalit perception, are a symbolic reiteration of their oppressed social status. They have, however, not refused to perform other tasks.

This year, too, despite the tensions that resulted in the Dalit decision to subject themselves to oppressive rites no more, the Dalits reiterated their decision. This was at a meeting on April 15, convened by the Pudukkottai revenue divisional officer during which caste Hindus demanded that the Dalits beat the drums. The Dalits were also given a veiled threat that “they would receive proper treatment after the festivals.”

On May 1, Dalits lodged a police complaint, fearing reprisal. They were advised by the tahsildar to “avoid conflict”. The Kali Amman festival was on May 17 and Dalits, fearing trouble, lodged a fresh police complaint. During their on–the–spot enquiry, a sub–inspector and a village administrative officer tried to persuade the Dalits to reconsider their decision. But the Dalits stayed away from the festival. They demanded and were given police protection until 5 p.m. that day. Soon after the withdrawal of police protection, a caste Hindu shopkeeper with known sympathies for Dalits was attacked by iron rods, after which the Dalit settlement and Dalit homes were pillaged. The All–India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) conducted a fact–finding investigation into the incident. The AIDWA report recorded 30 bags of groundnut and 5 bags of paddy being looted and the thali chains of three women and the earrings of one woman being snatched away.

A conference of Dalit women held in Pudukkottai by AIDWA in April 1998 had listed numerous instances of the prevalent practice of untouchability and other forms of discrimination against Dalits in the district and had brought it to the attention of the district administration. No steps for the eradication of the same have been taken.

More crimes against Dalits 
According to information received from the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, other incidents of violence against members of the Dalit community have also been recorded from Coimbatore and Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. 

In one case, Moothan (50 years) belonging to the Arunthathiar community from Aruvankadu colony of Alathur village in the Avinashi taluka in Coimbatore district was brutally assaulted and wounded by the prohibition enforcement police even as he was working in the field on April 21. Having sustained severe injuries and fractures, he has been admitted at the hospital at Thirupur. Despite demands and appeals to the relevant higher authorities urging action against the police, so far nothing has been done. The single demand that is being pressed is for the immediate arrest under the SC/ST Act of the policemen who attacked and injured Moothan as well as adequate compensation to the survivor.

Meanwhile, the Thiruvannamalai Advance Network has taken action on the following four cases:
a. The village of Peranambattu in Polur taluka in Thiruvannamalai district has a population of 2,500 families. Of these only about 300 families are Dalits. On April 10 this year, a group of these Dalits while returning from a funeral in the near by village of Aathurai, were making critical comments about the president of the village panchayat, Murugesan, belonging to an upper caste. The grouse was that president was uninterested in providing people with access to government welfare schemes. On hearing these comments, the son of Murugesan and Arjunan, a ward member, mustered together a rowdy group and attacked the Dalits. Later in the night, a 40–strong mob of the upper castes ransacked the Dalit colony, assaulted and disrobed several women and beat up several Dalits. As a result, three Dalits, Ramasamy, Muthu and Panneer had to be admitted in the hospital at Polur.

As if adding insult to injury, the caste villagers later called for a meeting of the panchayat and imposed more than a dozen discriminatory sanctions on the Dalits — no jobs for Dalits, not allowing them water for drinking or bathing, no noon meals to Dalit children in the school, not accepting milk from Dalits by the milk co–operatives, not selling anything to Dalits in the village shops etc. The villagers also blocked the paths to the Dalits colony, ploughed and irrigated the cremation ground of Dalits.

b. On April 14, a gang of four abused Bal Krishnan, a Dalit from Arunagirimangalam in Polur taluka of Thiruvannamalai district for answering the call of nature by the roadside. In the argument that ensued Balakrishnan was attacked with a hammer. He died on the spot. In spite of the road roko organised by the Network on April 15 demanding the arrest of the culprits two of them are still scot–free.

c. Chitra (18), a Dalit girl from Gangavaram village in Polur taluka was forced by Neethipathi, a youth belonging to the upper caste to elope with him to Chennai. Later the boy’s parents brought them back to the village. Thereafter, Chitra was locked up in the pumpset room in the fields without food and water for four nights. On the fourth night she was forced to eat some poisonous leaves and was driven away to the Dalit colony. Timely treatment by a local medicine man saved Chitra’s life. The police has since filed a case of abduction of a minor.

d. Elumalai, a Dalit belonging to Kilpalur was bringing some wooden furniture in a bullock cart that by chance hit against an auto belonging to a Vania Chettiar of the same village. Manu Chettiar, the panchayat president and a few others intervened and arranged a compromise settlement whereby Elumalai agreed to pay for the damage to the auto.
Later, some mischief–mongers spread false rumours that the Chettiars were being spoken of lightly by the Dalits. As a result the colony of the Dalits was attacked most brutally with iron rods and knives. Elumalai sustained head and body injuries, Subbammal lost her leg and Thangaimalai was seriously injured in the leg. Action against the assaulters is yet to be taken.

NHRC directs payment of compensation 
The National Human Rights Commission has directed the Andhra Pradesh government to pay Rs. 50,000 each as compensation to four young Dalit women, including a deaf and dumb girl, who were allegedly victims of rape in the West Godavari district recently. The directive of the NHRC assumes significance since it directed the AP government to review its schemes for compensation to survivors of such crimes belonging to the SCs and STs even if the rapists belong to the same caste or community.

The state police had, in a response to a complaint filed by academician-activist Dr P. Pullarao, told the NHRC that since both the victims and the aggressors in all four cases belonged to the SC/ST communities, the women were not entitled to any compensation. The NHRC directed that compensation payment should be within a month and the offenders must be prosecuted and punished in accordance with law.

Seeking refuge in Buddhism
Around 2,000 Dalit youth from different parts of Karnataka converted to Buddhism at Kanaganahalli, close to the historic Sanhati Buddhist centre, Chittapur taluka. The congregation was organised by the International Buddhist Youth Association and the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti. Sorai Sasai Sonin, a Buddhist priest from Japan made formal prayers and offered diksha to the Dalit youths. 

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