Tsundur : A New Milestone
The Movement For
By Subhash Gatade
13 August, 2007
If we do not struggle
If we do not persist in our struggle
The enemy would finish us with his bayonets
And pointing to our bones he would tell the rest of the world
Look, these are bones of slaves !
Look, these are bones of slaves !!
( A Hindi couplet)
D Dhanraj from Tsundur ( Guntur,
A.P.) possibly does not know how the rest of the world remembers 6 th
of August. Neither possibly he knows that there is a city called Hiroshima
in far away Japan which was nearly obliterated that day. But for him
also the very day symbolises deaths and destruction and an endless wait
He can still recollect each
and every incident on that fateful day way back in 1991 when five people
from his own community were lynched before his eyes by a mob of marauders
belonging to his village itself.
In fact, the blood thirsty
mob had nearly lynched him also but somehow he was saved. Streets of
Tsundur that day witnessed deaths of total eight people all of them
dalits when a 400 strong armed mob of Reddys - a landlord caste which
has dominated the politics of A.P since independence - attacked the
dalits to teach them a lesson. The perpetrators of the massacre were
so brutal that they cut the dead bodies into pieces, put them in gunny
bags and threw them in the nearby Tungabhadra canal.
But as of now the wait for
justice seems to be finally over. The recent judgement of the Special
Court - which was the first of its kind formed under the provisions
of the SC and ST Act (1989) at the scene of offence- has rather vindicated
their sixteen year old struggle. Twenty one of the accused have been
given life imprisonment which 35 of the accused have been asked to serve
one year rigorous imprisonment. The court have acquitted the rest of
the accused showing lack of evidence, but a coalition of dalit organisations
have been pressing upon the government to file a petition in the upper
court to challenge the acquttal.
A brief recap of the events
in this 'historic case' tells us that the upper caste ( read Reddys'
) used the pretext of of alleged harassment of a Reddy girl by a dalit
youth in a cinema hall to attack the dalits. The planned nature of the
attack was evidnt also from the fact that within no time a few hundred
strong mob of Reddys wielding traditional weapons (and few of them carrying
modern firearms) descended on the dalit hamlett and unleashed their
fury against the innocents. In fact, sensing an imminent attack, most
of the menfolk had alread left the village. Once the marauders came
to know of this they literally chased the dalits on the road adjoining
the Tungabhadra canal and lynched them one by one.
Looking back it is clear
that the preplanned attack against the dalits was another futile attempt
by the Reddys to reassert their age-old authority which had seen fissures
with the growing assertion of dalits. The changed atmosphere in the
village was for everyone to see.Not only many of the dalits boys and
girls had benefitted from the affirmative action programmes in education,
a few among them had even surpassed the Reddys in many respects. Many
of the dalits from the village were working with Indian Railways. Overall
the situation was such that the Dalits had refused to follow the medieval
dictats reserved for them under the Varna system.
D Dhanraj was a crucial witness
to the whole case. He did not falter for a moment despite tremendous
pressure brought upon him by the powerful Reddys.One can see that Tsundur,
the small village in Guntur, has created many such 'unsung heroes' -
ordinary looking people who faced heavy odds so that they get justice.
Merukonda Subbarao, a fifty six year old daily wage-worker, who had
served as the first president of the Tsunduru Victims Association was
another such 'hero' who identified and named forty of the accused standing
in the court room, from among the one hundred and eighty three accused.
It was clear that the whole incident was etched in his memory so strongly
that he did not falter despite the judges requests to repeat the identification.
And who can forget Martyr Anil Kumar, a young man in his twenties who
was in the forefront of the struggle so that the perpetrators of the
massacre are punished without delay. Anil was killed in a police firing
during one of those struggles.
As is clear in every other
atrocity against the dalits, the Reddys who have dominated the state
politics since independence, tried with all their might so that they
are allowed to go scot free. Utilising their contacts in the Judiciary,
bureacracy or police administration they tried to delay the process
of justice as long as they could do it.
Attempts were made to buy or coerce the dalits in very many ways and
the state also tried to play second fiddle to the Reddy's. It felt that
by distributing largesse to the dalits, giving jobs to few of them,
awarding compensation to the victims families they could calm down their
yearning for justice. But dalits in Tsundur wanted nothing less than
severe punishment for the perpetrators.Unitedly they raised a slogan
'Justice not Welfare'. It was worth emphasising that with their continued
resistance they were able to make Tsundur a key issue in state politics.
Any independent observer
of the dalit situation in the country - who has been watching with awe
the spurt in cases of dalit atrocities at a national level - would note
the fact that the conviction of the perpetrators at Tsundur is a significant
milestone in the ongoing dalit emancipation movement.
The nearly sixty year old
history of independent India bears witness to this phenomenon where
perpetrators of crimes against dalits in majority of the cases were
allowed to go scot free. The mechanism for denial of justice to dalits
has rather been perfected down the years Normally such cases are either
not registered and if at all they get registred they are not filed under
appropriate provisions of the law. Registration of cases under proper
law is no guarantee that they would be investigated by designataed authority
in such cases. The result is for everyone to see acquittal on flimsy
A conclusion of a detailed
and systematic study of 400 judgements passed by different district
courts of Gujarat done by Vajibhai Patel, Secretary of Council for Social
Justice corroborates this. It tells us that utterly negligent police
investigation at both the higher and lower levels coupled with a distinctly
hostile role played by the public prosecutors is the main reason for
the collapse of cases filed under the atrocities act. It is worth noting
that he has meticulously documented these judgements delivered under
this act since April 1, 1995 in the Special Atrocity Courts set up in
16 districts of the state. The study also blasts the common perception
is that the inefficacy of this law is due to false complaints being
lodged or compromises between the parties, in actuality it is a complicit
State that has rendered the Act toothless.(Communalism Combat’
People would recollect that in an inter state council meet called by
the Prime Minister to deliberate on the specific issue of dalit rage,
the Prime Minister himself had lamented the fact that (The Hindu, 10
th December 2006) ‘implementation of SC and ST(Prevention of Atrocities)
Act has not been effective’ and ‘cases continue to be registered
under weaker sections of IPC’.
A convention held last year
under the aegis of the social justice minister (Jan 2005) Meira Kumar
which was duly attended by the home minister had brought home this point
with emphasis. According to a newspaper report :
“Social justice minister
Meira Kumar pointed out that the conviction rate in cases registered
under the Protection of Civil Rights Act is a mere 3.75 per cent. Besides,
75 to 77 per cent cases of crimes against Dalits remain pending despite
the existence of special and designated courts. (January 12, 2005, The
It is possible that all this
details where the state and its different organs comes out in rather
unflattering terms could be brushed aside as a story repeated ad nauseam.
All the talk of dalit atrocities could be presented as another extension
of the way in which ‘state in the third world’ unfolds itself.
But the key point worth emphasising is that caste atrocities much like
gender oppression or racial atrocities have a specificity which transcends
the binary of ‘state as perpetrator’ and ‘people as
victims’ . In fact they implicate the partisan role played by
the people themselves.
The ‘Report on Prevention
of Atrocities against SCs ‘ prepared by NHRC ( 2004) presents
details of the way in which the civil society presents itself . Here
civil society itself becomes a distinct beneficiary of caste based order
and helps perpetuate the existing unequal social reactions and frustrates
attempts to democratize the society because through the customary arrangements
the dominant classes are assured of social control over people who can
continue to abide by their commands without any protest.
Of course the uncivil nature
of the civil society presents before us a unique challenge where the
need then becomes to rise above a mere discourse on civil and constitutional
rigths and address the failure of the largest democracy of the world
to go beyond mere form. We have to appreciate that it concerns the greater
hiatus that exists between constitutional principles and practice and
corresponding ethical ones based on a diametrically opposed ideal.
Everyone has to see that
under the purity and pollution based paradigm which is the cornerstone
of our caste system, inequality receives not only legitimisation as
well as sanctification. As inequality is accepted both in theory and
practice, a legal constitution has no bearing on the ethical foundation
of caste-based societies.In fact Dr Ambedkar, the legendary leader of
the oppressed had this very reality in his minds, when he emphasised
the difference between what he called ‘political democracy’
and ’social democracy’, the difference between ‘one
person having one vote’ and ‘one person having one value’.
It would not be an exaggeration
to say that the victory of the Dalits in Tsundur is 'historic' in very
many ways :
- It demonstrated the immense
possibilities inherent in the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act
(1989) which till date remain on paper. As rightly noted by many analysts
it is the first time in the nearly twenty year old trajectory of this
act that special courts had to be set up at the scene of offence. And
the dalits were saved from travelling long distances to depose in the
courts and face harassment on the way at the hands of the dominant castes.
It is noteworthy that Dalits
in Tsundur were so united that neither they accepted any summons from
the courts nor they just ever went to court which was situated at some
distanct place from the village. They demanded in unison that the courts
should come to them and the government had to concede to their demand
and set up special courts in a school premises.
- They also demanded that
they be provided with a Public Prosecutor and a judge who has a positive
track record while dealing with cases of dalit atrocities. After lot
of dilly-dallying the government complied with this demand also.
- It has been normal in all
such cases of dalit atrocities that as time passes, people including
victims and their families loose interest in continuing their fight
for justice. They come under pressure or are coerced into changing their
statement in the courts etc. We have before us the recent verdict in
Kambalapalli massacre of Dalits in Karnataka where the witnesses - those
very people who had lost their near and dear ones - themselves turning
hostile leading to acquittal of the accused.
The significance of the Tsundur
struggle was that the people leading the campaign were successful in
keeping the people mobilised all these years. Ofcourse the help rendered
by dalit as well as left organisations also played an important role
in keeping the flame alive. Tsundur became a rallying point for different
left and democratic forces in the state and it was harbinger of a new
turn in the left politics also which resolved to take up the issue of
As rightly noted by an analyst
the victory ( albeit a partial one) at Tsundur has come as breath of
fresh air in the already smouldering world of dalit oppression. And
it is high time that its fragrance is spread far and wide, so that people
are told that oppressed people united would always be victorious.
People who have visited Tsundur
would tell you that there is a 'Raktakshetram' in Tsundur - a place
in the centre of the Dalit basti where the massacred Dalits were cremated.
Till date it has remained as a live reminder of the atrocity only. But
post-verdict one can say that it has metamorphosed into a symbol of
their yearning to live a life of dignity and getting ready to make tremendous
sacrifices to make it happen.
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