Beaten Up in Tamil Nadu
The upper class hindus have
struck again in Tamil nadu. This time it is in the Satharasankottai
village in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu against a Dalit agricultural
worker. Velu, the victim this time, was subjected to brutal violence
only because he dared to question what authority the elite in the village
panchayat had to import machines to desilt the water body against the
norm that such works be carried out by farm labourers who are now out
of employment due to the drought conditions. The social elite, were
in no mood to let a Dalit assert his rights.
Velu was thrashed, then
dragged to the bus stand and let off only after his kin assured the
"powers that be" that he shall not defy them henceforth. The
people, predominantly belonging to the intermediate castes, stood watching
when Velu was being beaten up.
The violence in Satharasankottai,
cannot be seen as merely an angry reaction by local politicians hand-in-glove
with a civil contractor. Instead, the attack against Velu stems from
the same attitude that led to the grisly killing of seven Dalits, including
the panchayat president, at Melavalavu in Madurai district (not very
far from Satharasankottai) in June 1997. Such acts are common news now
a days in Tamil Nadu. In many incidents with the involvement of the
members belonging to the Other Backward Castes.
The trajectory of violence
against the Dalits in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, for instance,
has followed a pattern since the violence unleashed against the residents
in Kodiyangulam (a predominantly Dalit village) in September 1995. The
fact that the law enforcing machinery in all those instances (in Kodiyangulam
as well as in the violence that engulfed the region) was accused of
having remained passive or even participated in the attacks reflects
how deep the caste-based oppressive regime had percolated into the system
both within the administration and in civil society in the region.
It is this distortion in the mindset that has led to a situation where
several village panchayats in and around Madurai Pappapatti,
Keeripatti and Nattamangalam have been denied elected representatives
since October 1996. These village panchayats fall in the category where
the post of president is reserved for Scheduled Castes and the social
elite in these villages has managed to ensure that the Dalits did not
dare file nominations. The killings in Melavalavu, where the panchayat
president, vice-president and five others were literally beheaded because
they dared to defy the "norm" set by the village elders (who
belong to the intermediate castes) and went ahead and contested the
October 1996 elections to the panchayat, are a case in point to show
how powerful the feudal vestiges are in this region.
While the response of the
civil administration to the Satharasankottai incident cases have
been registered against five persons under various provisions including
the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 has been adequate
in the immediate context, the imperative for the political establishment
is to launch a campaign against the mindset that leads the social elite
to consider it their right to lord it over the Dalits.
Such incidents, are the basis
for the Dalits to decide to convert themselves to other religions. The
Tamil Nadu Government needs to direct its energies to ensuring security
and dignity for the Dalits rather than enacting a law imposing deterrents
on those who decide to convert to another religion, possibly to escape
the punishing social framework.