Vol. XLI No. 38 September 17, 2017

TAMIL NADU: Caste as the Menace

G Anand

ON August 29, at 10 pm, K Swaminathan, vice-president, SZIEF (AIIEA) called and asked me to free myself the next day to visit Nallur village near Thirukazhukundram.  Imparting the immediate necessity and urgency, he informed that the entire village was attacked by casteist forces when Vinayaka Chathurthi was celebrated by the dalits in that village. Accordingly, Uma Maheswari, Abinava Vidyatheerthan and myself (General Insurance, AIIEA) accompanied him to Nallur village. The vehicle had to pass through Neikuppai village where the casteist forces reside, so as to reach Nallur village which is located at the farther end. In India, all dalit villages are located at the farther end to symbolically convey that they are the last in the caste hierarchy.
There are totally 56 families in that small village. Two women received us in the first house which was partly burnt by the casteist forces. One woman showed her injury on her forehead.  Their two-wheeler was also damaged.  We went inside the house which is a small hut measuring 90-100 Sq Ft without proper flooring and with some utensils as their property.  They showed the cupboard which was broken and three sovereigns of gold and 50,000 cash was  looted by the rioters which they had preserved for the betrothal of their daughter scheduled on September 4, 2017 which now stands cancelled because of this looting. In yet another case, the family of a prospective bride literally broke down when they narrated their harrowing experience. When they had to flee the village for fear of life, the rioters took away the bag kept in the cupboard which contained cash of 5,00,000 and 15 sovereigns of gold preserved for their daughter’s marriage. We went to the next house and saw a girl with her hand broken. She said on the night of August 25 she heard some sound and came out of her house when three men beat her resulting in fractured hand. In another house, the EB board was broken because that was the only costly thing available in that house which was an eyesore for the rioters. The shoulder of a third year college dalit girl was broken by a girl belonging to casteist forces.  They did not spare even a deaf and dumb girl who was first hit on her chest and then her face done to the wall resulting in swelling and unbearable pain. These people were not given proper treatment by the Government Hospital due of the pressure of the politicians who are supposed to be the saviours of people beyond caste, creed and religion. We saw a house completely burnt by petrol bomb. The rice, payasam, kozhukattai that were prepared for offering to god as part of celebration were burnt with the odd residuary questioning the existence of god.

It all started at 9 pm on August 25.  These villagers were celebrating Vinayaka Chathurthi when 10 young boys passed the pandal on two-wheelers with high speed where Lord Ganesha was placed. Aggrieved over this, the women among the villagers questioned them and requested them to go slow. Upon this, the boys stopped, came back and asked them as to who gave them the right to celebrate Vinayaka Chathurthi. In the altercation, some boys beat the old man who was trying to mediate.  When the women questioned it, they called their villagers over phone and within 15 minutes, 200 people came and started attacking the village. The men were away for a function and the remaining ran away for fear of life. The women folk too ran away for fear of life. Then it was the situation of scot-free for the rioters as they burnt the houses by using petrol bombs, damaged the furniture which include television sets, two-wheelers, houses, stole the cash and jewellery and assaulted the girl children and elders before fleeing the scene.

The police and the local panchayat president came a day after. The villagers due to fear did not send their children to school as the school is located in the village dominated by other caste people. The sad fact of their dependency on caste Hindus for their livelihood had instilled fear in their minds to struggle against them.

The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) which heralded the fact-finding mission – of which AIIEA and BEFI are integral parts – was led among others by P Sampath, president, K Samuelraj, general secretary, Bharathi Anna, Kancheepuram district secretary. The delegation was also strengthened by the participation of Shankar, Kancheepuram district secretary of CPI(M) and other district committee members and CP Krishnan, general secretary, BEFI, Tamil Nadu and other office-bearers. Addressing the victims of Nallur, P Sampath and K Samuelraj assured that justice would be ensured to them through the efforts of TNUEF and CPI(M). They also assured to get due compensation for the damages caused by the perpetrators and to help wriggle out of false cases filed against them. The state government had brazenly displayed its insensitivity once again as it had failed to depute officials to the village even after a lapse of five days so as to file a report on the true picture of the incident to the government. The government had thrown to four-winds the very basic thing of providing essentials to the affected victims till normalcy is restored which the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act mandates. As a first step, we distributed rice, mat and bucket to all the families worth around Rs 30,000 and assured them of our support in their struggle.  We also assured them of legal support as the rioters have filed a false case on August 26 morning against 25 youth of Nallur village before the Nallur villagers filed the case reminding us of an infamous slogan – assailant turning a complainant. A dharna is planned before Thirukazhukundram taluk office demanding interim relief to the affected families, to file case against the perpetrators of crime and to order for a fair enquiry by a designated judge.

When we set out of the village after the visit, a woman of 35 years old intercepted and asked whether dalits have to remain like this for ever. For a moment, we were in search of any reply of solace to them but in the same vein asked them to stay united and fight as they have nothing to lose but everything to gain in the process of united struggle.