SIZZLING Sun, melting tar roads – these did not deter the padayatris – the strong-willed cadres of the Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) from undertaking the journey. Braving these odds, they took upon themselves the arduous task of trekking a distance of 400 kilometres highlighting the demand for a special legislation on caste arrogance killings - honour killings is a media misnomer. It is the righteous indignation against the social evil and the determination to fight it to the finish, that virtually became their two legs. Special legislation for dealing with caste arrogance killings was the sole campaign offensive of this jatha.
COLD BLOODED MURDERS
There has been a series of caste arrogance murders, as many as 200 in Tamil Nadu in the past five years. It is this murder of Gokul Raj in Salem that sparked off the decision to undertake this jatha. Threatening the love-pair, putting asunder couples of love marriage, physical attacks, murder of either of the pair – these have been the pattern. Three dalit villages in Dharmapuri district were burnt to ashes. The caste Hindu Divya and the Dalit Ilavarasan were separated after the marriage. Later, the body of Ilavarasan was found lying near a railway track. The mystery shrouding this murder is yet to be unravelled. Vimaladevi of Usilampatti was burnt down by her parents. Marimuthu, a Dalit youth of Soorakkottai in Thanjavur district was maimed and killed. Nandini of Ariyalur, Aiswarya of Peramablur, Sankar of Udumalpet – it is an unending list of the victims in the caste arrogance killings. In all these, the perpetrators of the crime were either parents or relatives of the boy or girl. But the murder of Gokul Raj gave a different dimension to the issue. In this case, a caste organisation abducted Gokul Raj and murdered him in order to uphold the “honour” of the caste. This appears to be a very dangerous trend. This, naturally created lot of sensation and touched off discussions on a wider scale.
THE SKEWED STATE MACHINERY
The attitude of the State machinery in Tamil Nadu, especially the police, is brazenly partisan – virtually weighed against the Dalits. There are some cases in which the police was hand-in-glove with the offenders, helping them even in separating the married couple. Knowing full well the risk Vimala Devi would entail, the police sent her with her parents. Later the murder was sought to be projected as suicide. Not believing the police version, the Madras High Court had to order an enquiry into this. This is one glaring example of how partisan the TN police.
This kind of developments on the caste front naturally calls for a special legislation. This point has been under discussion by all the right thinking people for the past seven or so years. A draft bill was also introduced in the parliament way back in 2011. The National Law Commission had also given due emphasis on the need for a special law on this subject. Its recommendations say that there should be no intervention whatsoever by the parents or relatives in the right of a person to choose his or her spouse.
A Soundararajan, CPI(M) MLA and the then floor leader of the legislature party brought forth in 2015 a private member bill in TN assembly seeking grant of strong powers to arm the state to prevent caste arrogance killings. Dilip Kumar, husband of the murdered Vimala Devi filed a case in the Madras High Court under the guidance of the TNUEF. It is in this case, Justice Ramasubramanian came out with nine guidelines that included 24 hour helpline number, online registration of complaints, police protection, asylum for the victims etc.
He also ordered implementation of these guidelines within three months. But the TN government has not implemented these guidelines. And it is in this background of the nonchalance, and partisan attitude of the state government, such murders are taking place endlessly.
ROUSING START FROM SALEM
The padayatra had its brilliant start from Salem with a mammoth meeting. P Sampath, Central Committee member of the CPI(M) and president of the TNUEF, inaugurated the jatha. Thol. Thirumavalavan, founder leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) greeted the participants. This naturally attracted the attention of the people in TN. The padayatra was led by Samuel Raj, general Secretary of TNUEF.
That the jatha started from Salem is because it is the soil where Gokul Raj was murdered. The 400 kilometre jatha covered hundreds of places in the districts of Salem, Villupuram, Kanchipuram before reaching Chennai. The uniform worn by the padayatris - red shirts and blue pants – would signify the natural and the much desired coming together of Lal Salam and Neel Salam.
In the 13 days, on an average 150 to 400 comrades participated in the jatha; there were about 15 meetings a day reaching out to thousands of people. The attendance in the public meetings held in the nights was quite massive.
BROAD MOBILISATION AND CAMPAIGN
The jatha apart from making an impressive show also had a telling impact on the masses about the main theme – anti-casteism. It also helped in unifying the progressive forces against casteism. It needs a special mention that leading functionaries of VCK like Sinhthanai Selvan, Viduthalai Chezhiyan, Vanniyarasu, Kabilan participated and greeted the jatha along with hundreds of their young cadres. Ku. Jakkaiyan, president of Adhi Thamaizhar Peravai, Sowrirajan (Mannurimai Koottamaippu), Rev. Fr. Yesu Mariyan (Dr Ambedkar centenary movement), Varghese (Makkal Viduthalai Kazhakam), Roman Catholic priests Rev. Frs. Antony Sahayaraj, Xavier, John Suresh also greeted the jatha. All these point out to the need for strengthening the emotional bonds of unity for the task ahead.
The participation of the families of the victims in these meetings showed their confidence on the TNUEF. It was quite heartening that almost all the victims or their kith and kin – mother, father, husband, wife – that faced this or that cruelty perpetrated by the casteist forces in TN, got on the dais in the inaugural function. It is also worth mentioning here that Kowsalya of Udumalpet under whose very nose her husband was killed in broad day light participated in the meeting at Thindivanam and also in the jatha for eight kilometres.
The participation of leaders of the democratic, social justice and other progressive movements lent credence to this movement. The participation of Justice Hari Paranhthaman (retired judge of the Madras High Court), Kolathur Mani (Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhakam), Arunan (TN Progressive Writers and Artists Association), Dr Venkatesh Athreya helped in taking the message of the jatha to wider sections of the masses. The participation of the state leaders of mass organisations, Senthil and S Bala (DYFI), Valentina and Suganthi (AIDWA), Mariappan and Uchi Mahali (SFI) gave fillip to the campaign. Comrades from insurance, banking, BSNL, transport and other trade unions participated in the jatha and the meetings. That the AIIEA units ensured the direct participation of more than 300 of their cadre on different days in the jatha is worth a special mention here.
MORALE HIGH ALL THE WAY….
Ten days of sweltering heat, two-three days of intermittent rains, power outage during night stay, water shortage – all these that would have normally stymied the morale of anyone – could not touch the strong willed and hard headed red shirt heroes. They were as enthusiastic till the last day as they were on day one. The jatha drew all into its vortex, age and gender not withstanding – the 72 year old Ramsamy of Namakkal or the 21 year old Priya – with equal enthusiasm.
The Puduvai Safdar Hashmi art troupe, Puyal Thappaatta group, audio tapes in the propaganda van – all helped in the campaign and need due praise for the purpose they served in an excellent way.
Four women comrades participated in the jatha all the days. The couples of inter-caste marriages were felicitated in Patalam junction road and Singaperumal Kovil meetings. This generated enthusiasm among the youth. And it gives hope for the future.
R Nallakannu, senior leader of the CPI greeted the jatha at the Singaperumal kovil meeting. N Sankariah, the senior leader of the CPI(M) greeted the jatha at Tambaram. Sankariah appealed to the youth to love and marry, and this appeal drew loud applause. Upholding love marriages, he said it is the right of the individual to choose one’s life partner.
POPULAR SUPPORT AND AROUSAL
The areas covered by the jatha are the ones where many caste clashes had taken place earlier, and are still pregnant with such proclivities. Because the voice of the jatha was the voice for justice, there was not a minor disturbance to the journey at any point of its route. And if any, it should have touched the conscience of many. The volunteers of the TNUEF distributed thousands of pamphlets. Many in the buses, colleges waved their hands in approval of the demands. The jatha could enjoy the hospitality of innocent brethren in the villages. More than Rupees One lakh came as donations to the TNUEF on the way through public collections. 3000 copies of “Anaiya Venmani” – the quarterly magazine of the TNUEF were sold to the public. In some villages, the villagers welcomed the jatha cutting across party barriers; DMK and AIADMK local functionaries adorned the jatha leaders with shawls. All these would show the extent of popular support the jatha enjoyed.
The police refused permission to jatha into the city of Chennai. The jatha that proceeded under the leadership of G Ramakrishnan, CPI(M) state secretary was prevented on its way to the city; the police arrested hundreds of the participants. In the meantime, the TN chief minister has agreed to meet the TNUEF leaders on June 29.
Popular opinion is the biggest weapon. And with this weapon, the jatha has hit yet another milestone in the history of struggle for social justice, and against social oppression.