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Rise Of Dalit Assertion Is The First Sign Of Defeat Of Brahmanical System

By V.B.Rawat
in Tsundur ( A.P.)

28 January,2005

It is a story very similar to Jahira Sheikh who has made it to major newspaper headlines. While Gujarat has been in the limelight for Narendra Modi’s obsession for rhetoric’s and experimenting ground of the Hindutva, far away in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district, Dalit families were being threatened with dire consequences by the local feudal lords who butchered them on August 6th, 1991 in a place called Tsundur. The slow and tardy process of law is not taking its recourse and the forces of butchery are ready to counter it by their might. It is not just physical threat of intimidation but also allurement: Sam-Dama-Danda-bheda. Since there has been little follow up of the case, it is natural for these forces to use the state machinery and slow process of judiciary for their own purposes.

It was the time when the country was reeling the aftermath of Mandalisation process Exactly, a year ago, prime minister V.P.Singh had announced the implementation of Mandal Commission report on August 7th, 1990, which the Hindu uppercaste vociferously opposed and took to the streets. All the myths of Hindu tolerance were exposed. Mandal might not have helped the Dalits but the fact of the matter was that they were the first to support it. During that process, Andhra saw many Dalit groups coming together with the OBCs. Even in the villages talks of a grand Bahujan alliance were visible.

Today almost 15 years after the ghastly massacre, the Dalits now face a challenge and it comes not only from the powerful Reddy’s but their masters in the power politics of the state. Andhra Pradesh is known for two power caste states. One is Reddy’s who have ruled most of the time since Andhra came into being and the other community which formed another party to counter the Reddy domination was Kamma which necessitated them to form Telugu Desham Party. Reddy’s have been dominant land owning community in Andhra Pradesh and Dalits have been the biggest victim of their feudal fantasies.

Tsundur is a small town situated about 15 kilometer from Tanali and a two hour journey from Vijaywada city. With a population over 5000 Tsundur has clearly demarcated the Dalit localities and the upper caste areas. Among the Dalits it is the Malas who are a majority community while the second important Dalit community is Madigas. Two Scheduled tribe communities of Eurkula and Yanadi also live near the ST colony on the railway track, while the Dalits live in Dalitwada or Ambedkarnagar, which they now proudly ascertain.

Education and assertion

The assertion of Dalits for the dignity and equality was a challenge for most of the Reddys. In fact, a majority of Dalits had joined the Indian Railways in different categories and thus started sending their children to schools. Their houses had electricity and other essential items which so far have not been a part of Dalit families.

Educated Dalits and particularly those who live in cities do not easily bow to the fancies of the upper castes. Tsundur witness same fight of Dalits where they, for all reasons were better off in education while the upper caste despite their land were lagging behind in education. It is also reported that the upper caste boys involved in eve teasing of their own girls were reported angry with several Dalit youths who came for the rescue of upper caste girls in a cinema hall of the village. In the cinema hall, Dalits were not supposed to sit but education changed everything. The boys would wear jeans, the girls would go to degree college with their head high and the women and men would ask for the minimum wages and that was unacceptable to Dalits. Things were boiling for many years, naturally, because the Dalits were embracing modernity and the Reddy’s wanted them to stick to their age-old tradition of subjugation.

The government of Andhra Pradesh was under the Reddy rule during the Tsundur massacre though Janardhan Reddy happened to be Christian. But that does not make a difference. Indians take their caste along with them when they shift their loyalty to other holy books and seers. Janardhan Reddy’s government tried to calm down the entire process when political leaders made a pilgrimage to Tsundur. India, that time saw many more such massacre like Kumher in Bharatpur Rajasthan, Shankarbigha, Lakshamanpur Bathe, Fetehpur. The incidents were growing as the Dalit assertion and their solidarity with the backward communities and minorities was increasing. There were attempts to break this unity in many places and the backward communities were made instrumental in targeting the dalits and upholding the flag of the Hindutva.

Crime Inhuman and inexplicable

In all 9 people died on the August 6th attack. Their bodies were cut into pieces and put in gunny bags and thrown into Tungbhadra drainage as well as adjacent canals. Those who died were the following :

Name Age

Jaladi Mathaiah 40
Jaladi Imaneul 38
Jaladi Isaac 25
Mallela Subba Rao 35
A. Rajamohan 25
Sunkuru Samson 28
D.Jayaraj 30
Mundru Ramesh 21
Mundru Parisudha Rao 35

List of injured

Sambaiah 50
P.Jakraiah 52
D.Dhanraj 25

Entire village had fled that time. It was the efforts of Reddy’s that the village should not remain the same and Dalits should not come at their own. The murders were so brutal that Mundru Parishudha Rao, elder brother of Mundru Ramesh, who went to see the bodies to hospital at Tenali suffered heart attack and died. It is also said that one Dalit doctor who performed postmortem of the bodies in Tenali was so shocked on the condition of bodies that he later committed suicide. Many relative became psychologically disturbed. P.Jakraiah who is now around 75 years of age is thoroughly paralysed and has memory problem. It is difficult for him to narrate the incidents while he talks to me he gets restive. His wife has been helping him and his feet paralytic. When he asked for water they urinated at his hand.

The other man who survived was D.Dhanraj, who takes me to many places where he was kept. His story of survival is that of a valiant man. He witnessed the murder of 5 people. In fact he was captured and beaten mercilessly. His legs and hands were broken and he was brought to Bananagarden which is owned by some Munanaga Reddy who is a physically disabled person. It is alleged by Dhanraj that sine Munanaga was incapable of running he could not participate in mass lynching hence to facilitate a killing by him, he was brought to this garden near the canal. He was subconscious when the persons guarding him urinated in his hand as Dhanraj asked for water. After some time they went to the nearby bridge over the canal leaving Dhanraj at the field. Dhanraj was thirsty for water and thought that he could get it from the canal and crawling slowly he jumped into the canal and went along the tide of the canal. At about a kilometer he heard noise of his neighbors and other women who had come in search of their men and cried for help. They brought him home and took him to Tenali by putting a sari over him because the Reddy’s were not allowing any men to go out even for the medical treatment.

Today, Dhanraj is a crucial witness. So are others. The families of those killed have grown up. In adversity they have shown great resilience and have slapped on the face of the powerful feudal lords. Most of the children are doing well in education. It was heartening to see girls going for M.Tech and B.Tech and also for the post graduation courses. Most of the Dalits are working with various government agencies. Government gave them one house and one acre of land beside a government job. But the most important part was government was not interested in pursuing the case. Perhaps the government and those in power thought that since they have provided more than enough compensation now the people would not ask for justice.

Dalit’s fight against tyrannical upper castes

Dalits of Tsundur formed a committee and fought against the upper caste attempt to thwart justice. They did not go for any hearing to far away places as they wanted a special court be formed. Finally the government allowed formation of special court in Tsundur and the judge belonged to Dalit community. Fearing reprisal the Reddy’s tried to delay with other tactics. They succeeded in transferring the judge. Another judge came and hearing began and people started identifying witnesses. Since the Congress government has come to power, the Reddy’s are again feeling comfortable. When the judge was started the case, immediately, the Reddy’s asked for adjournment due to festival and harvesting season and judge granted it. The hearing is now in the final stage but one does not know when it will finish. Summon has been issued for February 25th and one is sure that the pressure is tremendous on the dalits. There are many incidents of allurement as well as threat because Tsundur case will be watershed. It will decide the future course of action on part of Dalits. It will decide how our judicial system function. We know how state function and Tsundur case had very few followers perhaps because it is not adventurous for media.

Knowing fully well that there is upper caste antipathy for them, the youths of Tsundur started agitating for their rights. But the reaction of the upper caste was equally brutal, for they wanted to close this chapter there and then only. They resorted to every tactics. Anil Kumar, who was a student of BA was in the forefront of organizing Dalits of Tsundur and he was shot dead by the police in a peaceful Dharana. Role of police has been highly partisan and against all norms of rule of law. The Dalits of Tsundur buried all the 9 victims at the heart of the village and it is named as ‘Raktkshetra’, perhaps to remind the upper castes that they would not them let go without facing a trial. Just 50 meter ahead one statue of Baba Saheb Ambedkar remains incomplete. Dalits wanted it to be unveiled soon but the upper castes have not allowed. They wanted to crush the self- respect of Dalits which Ambedkar has given them.

Not to let the flag of struggle down, the Dalits of Tsundur erected a monument in memory of Anil Kumar, infront of his house. Old woman like Gudurulamma died in Delhi when she went to participate in a protest for demanding justice to her community. As life goes on the families of victim of Tsundur demand immediate justice for those who died. They feel if the guilty were punished according to their crime and most of them said hanging, they would feel relieved. Today, the Dalits of Tsundur know fully well that the price of truth is very high. They know that the government has paid them handsomely and got even their distant relatives job in its effort to keep their mouth shut. But as I speak to most of the survivors who have done really well in their lives, they would be betraying to their elders if they change for small penny. Ofcourse, the powerful elite will continuously threaten them by different means. Most of the children have grown old. Mose son of Mutthaiya Mathew is now one of the leaders of the committee. His eyes reflect fire and rage and he still remember how as a young man he had to go pick up his father’s body. He want that the culprits must be hanged or handed over to the Dalits for any treatment they wish to give them.

Manipulation thy name is feudalism

The role of police needs to be scrutinized. It was police which forced people to leave their villages and flee to other village perhaps in a preplanned way to put them into the well laid trap of the Reddy’s. So far 219 people have been named in the FIR. About 29 of them have died but 7 main culprits have not yet been arrested. Police had deliberately made mistakes in many names but putting the different names of the father of the conspirators, which does not exist. Our police system lives in the age of old feudal system as it still has not come in terms of democracy where every one is at least constitutionally equal. During my trip to this village I came across many suspected murderers roaming around in their motorbikes while police claims to have not been able to arrest them. Even 12 years after the non-bailable Warrant, the accused have not been arrested. These are the following:

The case against the following eight absconding accused is pending with the committal Court in the Special Mobile Court, Guntur for the last 12 year with our being committed to the Special Court:

1) A119-Mr.KondamadugulaVenkatappa Reddy S/o Mr.Venkata Reddy, R/o Modukur,

2)A146- Mr.Kosana Ramakrishna Rao S/o Mr. Venkaiah @ Kirasanayilu Venkaiah, R/o Munnangivaripalem,

3) A151- Mr.Ikkurthi Venkateswarlu, S/o Mr.Subba Rao, R/o Munnagivaripalem,

4) A169- Mr.Gorrepati Krishna Reddy, S/o Mr.Rami Reddy, R/o Munnagivaripalem,

5) A170- Mr.Modugula Kotireddy, S/o Mr.Sambireddy, R/o Tsundur,

6) A176- Mr.Kosana Venkaiah @ Kirasanayilu Venkaiah, S/o Mr.Yedukondalu R/o Tsundur,

7)A184- Mr.Gorrepati Appireddy @ Babu, S/o Mr. Ramireddy, R/o Tsundur, and

8)A188- Mr.Bontha Papireddy S/o Mr. Kotireddy, R/o Munnagivaripalem.

(List according to AP People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Tsundur Victim Carnage Association)

All these people are there because of the legal hurdles and non cooperation of the police. Jaladi Moses, president of Tusundur Carnage Victim’s Association and himself son of a person who was killed in the massacre says that police and administration has been highly un-cooperative of the entire event. “In spite of repeated requests by the special public prosecutor, the concerned police officials have so far not handed over the CD files of the Tsundur carnage cases to them. The case record runs into about two thousand pages, which takes months to the prosecutors to prepare for effective layering on behalf of the prosecution. It is doubtful whether the entire case files are there with the police. The Inspector of Police, Tsundur told the representatives of the Victims Association that with much effort he could only trace a part of the record. The police were not prompt enough to file the death certificate of one of the accused that died a couple of months ago though they were given one-month time. Thus in an indirect way they help those who are in need of delaying the case trial.”

Most of the Dalits in Tsundur have been practicing Christian. The lonely church of Tsundur has become symbol of Dalit power apart from Dr Ambedkar. Unfortunately, neither those in power easily used this as an instrument to foil the case of atrocities against the Dalits. It was mentioned that since all of them are Christian hence they don’t come under the SC-ST atrocities act, though the Andhra Pradesh High Court rejected the entire fabrication of case by the accused, yet it is an important case of human rights violation and irrespective of their faiths must be restored to all Dalits. Dalits have in India revolted against the Varna system and embraced various faiths. Not all of them remain satisfied and discrimination against them continued despite their change of faith. As mentioned earlier, Andhra Pradesh had Mr Janardhan Reddy as chief minister who happened to be a Christian and yet could not side with the Dalits and allegedly supported Reddy’s. This is the greatest secular act in India that you support your caste irrespective of your religion.

For years Dalits in Tsundur demanded that they be allowed to have public prosecutor on which they have faith. The government was not keen on this but ultimately allowed to so. The government issued its order in August 2000 but like any other thing it took more then two and a half year when the Dalits got somebody who were really keen to serve them as public prosecutor. There were other procedural delays. Finally the case had come for hearing again other delays like elections 2004 in May. After the YSR Reddy government took over in Andhra-Pradesh, efforts were made to delay it again. So after one hearing in December 2004, the trial court adjourned the case on the plea of harvesting season. There will be more such hurdles in future and we should be ready for that.

A communiqué from PUCL Andhra Pradesh expose the delay process in the case. It says

“ For two years, the case could not reach the Special Sessions Court under the SC&ST (PA) Act, Guntur as 8 accused were not arrested by the police. Later the case against the absconding accused was separated and the case of the remaining accused (about 200) was committed to the Special Court in 1993. Later there was stalemate in the case as the accused raised an objection in 1994 that the victims belonged to Christian faith and hence there could not be a charge under the SC & ST (PA) Act. The matter was taken to the AP High Court by the accused as the Special. Judge ruled out the objection. Later the High court remanded the petition back to the same Judge who again held that the victims were Hindus. Later, the trial date was fixed up in October 1994, but the government taken no steps to get it held in Tsundur village as promised to the victims by it though a school building in the village was remodeled and furnished with a budget of about Rs. 4 lacks to hold camp Court. So, renewing their demand for the trial in their village the dalit witnesses had refused to receive summons. Later the judge decided to hold the case trial at Tsundur village itself. The case was further stalled by the efforts of the accused challenging the choosing of Tsundur as the trial place. The case had been again taken to the AP High Court in 1994. However, the AP High Court in 1995 remanded the issue to the trial Court. Ultimately the trial judge in 1995 decided to hold the trial at Guntur instead of Tsundur. “

According to K.Satya Narayan Rao, Secretary Kuru Nirumluna Porata Samiti Andhra Pradesh, the situation is not well in the area and the pressure of the upper caste bureaucracy and police is tremendous. At the village the Dalits face death threat apart from boycott, at the bureaucratic and police level it is go slow and deviate from the facts on technical grounds. Satya and his colleagues including president of Samiti Mr K.Prabhakar Rao have been camping in the village for many days. They organised people through organizing cultural shows. Legendary poet and singer Gaddar also visited this place and penned a song in memory of Tsundur.

Rise of Dalit women and fall of Reddy’s

Tsundur’s Dalit are united because they understood the enormity of this violence. As I visit and meet Grasamma and Raja Rao parents of Anil Kumar, my eyes become wet. The father is unable to explain much but the mother is full of praise of her son who sacrificed his life for the community. The memorial of Anil Kumar in front of his house is a reminder of Dalits fight against oppression and feudalism.

Another visit to Mundru Ramesh’s house is more painful if we visualize the situation and how the people are coping with. Ramesh’s eye were gauged and he was cut into pieces. His elder brother Parishudha Rao died of heart attack after seeing fatal condition of his brother. Mother Talasamma is inconsolable as she remembers those cruel days when she lost her two sons. It is an ironical situation that Tulsamma had to call her daughter Janasi who was married elsewhere to take care of her. Now janasi take care of her mother along with her children. Her husband also take care of his in laws. When I asked whether Janasi felt any objections from her in laws in shifting to her parents place, she answered in the negative. But her pain and agony is very much part of her life. I became emotional when I was speaking to her elder daughter who is in 12th standard virtually wept. The young girl was perhaps aware of more struggling days in future as her younger brother cannot speak and stand and her younger sister deaf and dumb. It is very rare to see people struggling in such a situation.

I ask Tulsamma, despite the fact that her loss has been tremendous, whether she feel her daughter has filled the gap? Do you think the boys and girls are equal and she though feel pained at the loss of her two sons feel that her daughter is worthy of anything else. She has worked hard and taken proper care of myself says Tulsamma. The daughter herself feel that she want to educate her daughter and get her a job.

Moses son of Mattaiya Mathew is now a government servant. At the time of this ghastly carnage he was a 19 years old young lad. He has fury. He has three brothers and every one of them got job. Moses has been in the forefront of organizing people against the Reddy’s. They must be punished.

J. Ishaq was a painter and nothing against the Reddy’s when he was butchered. His wife Samadanam is now working in a government office. His mother Saramma is sitting with her grand son named as Ambedkar who is 19 years old. Both say that they will feel satisfied only after the guilty are hanged.

M. Subba Rao died leaving his parents, wife and three daughters. He was an agricultural labour. After his death the family was virtually motionless. There was no male member in the family and given the patriarchic nature of our society it was difficult to think how the family would move. IN fact the Reddy’s had ensured that the women become functionless by targeting the male members of the Dalit community. But the way these women have come up and fought against tyranny is a big slap on the face of feudal lords. Subba Rao’s wife is a cook in a girls school outside the village. She stays in the village and come during the week days. Her daughter Sukanya has completed her B.Sc in biology and now wish to take up B.Ed course. The younger sibling is also studying hard. This is the power of Dalit women that despite such an adverse circumstances they have over come the grim situation. Sukanya’s maternal grand parents take care of her and her sister. While the mother still feel that she miss male members in the family yet the grand parents are proud of their grand daughters. ‘ They are our sons, says the proud grand father. In fact the daughter also feel that she is definitely not less then any male member. She does go everywhere at her own and wherever needed particularly in the college, her Nana accompany her.

One fellow had two wives and see the irony, government has provided jobs to both of them. The government went overboard in bribing the people rather then bringing the culprit to the book. Rehabilitation is no doubt important but cannot be done at the cost of justice.

Reddy’s raj has virtually been outshadowed by the Dalit assertion and particularly the way their women have come up. Ambedkarnagar’s Dalitwada now is a pride place where Dalits live like a close nit family. Many women have opened grocery shops and tea stalls and they earn handsome amount. They are independent women proud of their work. A crucial witness in the ghastly carnage, Shankuntala own a shop on the main road. Her husband is a retired railway employee. She is enjoying her independent and earn over Rs 150 per day which is fairly good in the village.

Sharda and Shakuntala are two sisters of Jai Raj who was killed in massacre. He was working as a junior assistant in a municipality, which was about 200 kilometer from Tsundur and had come here to participate in wedding. In their family they were one brother and two sisters. Jai Raj was about 30 years of age. The family felt the chaos as Jai Raj was taking care of their family who had lost both the parents. Both the sisters found it hard to come up in terms of feeling orphaned. Though both the sisters got government job yet the main was tremendous. Sarojini, the elder sister found it difficult to manage but got married at her own, helped by the uncles.

Dalit movement need to come up against patriarchy strongly. Despite these powerful women symbols who now consider themselves equal to men, there are several painful stories of reminder of our feudal system. I tried to find out about the wives of those who died. Jairaj’s wife is 32 at the moment and has got a job in a municipality of Guntur. She did not marry, tells the sister. I asked her why and the answer because she got everything due to Jairaj hence marrying would mean betrayal to the memory of Jairaj. This is similar to what we expected from Kargil widows. We did not want them to marry and we doled out fund so that they do not question the state. In Tsundur the state went out of way to compensate so that the victims do not question the gangsters who killed and destroyed families. Yet, the resilience of the Dalit women have paid and the Reddy’s who are now trying everything to thwart the judicial system must be feeling now that Dalits have awaken and it is not the same story now. The more fascist you become in your practice, the more the oppressed will come up and challenge. Dalits of Tsundur have outshined the powerful feudal lords in everything be it democratic practice, be it the women’s emancipation or be it education and employment. They have proved that a community cannot be pushed to the wall through pressure tactics and prejudices. The retaliation would be powerful. The story of the Dalits and their rise in Tsundur is a story for all of us to learn, that adversity provides best opportunity to success.

As February is approaching us, Dalits wait for justice will decide their future course of action. In all they are not going to sit silent. With families opting for education and learning, now they want to pay their debt by getting ready to speak against the powerful upper caste. It is time to assert and awake, they say. Tungbhadra river and adjacent canal are life line to the farmers and poor people of Tsundur and adjoining villages. The upper castes feudal landlords shed the blood in Tungbhadra and now the river need a cleansing. It need an answer from the Indian judicial system that those who have committed crime and who are roaming free should be brought to book otherwise those who have embraced democracy and those who believe in democracy will loose faith in it and pick up the guns and kill at their will. Dalits are a powerful community thanks to Dr Ambedkar and his message which has reached every nook and corner of the community. Let us hope that the government machinery will understand and not manipulate the law according to its own comfort. It is for them to prove that they believe in democracy and liberty and equality. The world is watching. Don’t blame Dalits if they get frustrated and embrace violence for speedy justice.











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