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How Shall We Overcome?

By Leena Manimekalai

18 December, 2012

The Dalit community of Naikkankottai, Dharmapuri, stopped being the descendants of Manu since a few years and chose a livelihood other than what had been destined to them by the caste system as a profession. They refused to beat drums, dispose off the dead and work as slaves under the Caste Hindu landlords. On top of all this, Dalit youth became graduates, dressed in denim, used mobile phones and chose their life partners. One of them was Ilavarasan(23) and he fell in love with Divya(20) who happen s to be a Caste Hindu(Vanniyar) girl and subsequently married her . This reason was enough to spark off violence on the part of the Vanniyar Majority of Naikankottai to ransack the Dalit colonies, loot their wealth, burn their pride and reduce them to rubble.  Vanniyars gathered as a mob, hurling shame on them as petrol bombs, cursing them with swear words challenging their self respect and freedom of choice. 268 houses of Natham, Annanagar and Kondampatti colonies were looted and burnt to ashes on November 7, 2012 .

Ambedkar at Ilavarasan's relative house at Anna Nagar Colony,NaikkanKottai,Dharmapuri

In the sixties and seventies when the Dalits did not have any property or assets, 'killing' was the only means to teach them a ‘lesson' for their perceived defiance of the caste code. But over the decades, aided by education and employment in the industries, Dalit homesteads are not anymore, mere thatched huts sans any assets. They have turned into modern households decked up with television, refrigerator, air conditioner, cycle, motorbike and even a car, though built under State Government Schemes.  Today the colonies represent their accumulated labour for years, and aspirations of their lives. Therefore their property became a more effective target for ‘teaching the lesson' so that the devastation is imperative. Ironically,  Naikkankottai was known for years as the centre of the naxalite movement in the state, with almost all its residents, Dalits as well as non-Dalits being part of the movement in seventies through nineties. The imposing memorial of Comrades Appu and Balan, who were encountered by the police in 1979 right at the entrance of the village, only stands as a witness to how the land of revolution has now deteriorated to the land of worst atrocity and arson. Maybe this is where base and superstructure lost out to dialectics.

When I went with my friend Piyush Manush to meet the community, we were right royally stopped by the Police patrol at the check post. We were asked to get the District Collector's permission to enter the area. We congratulated each other for being citizens of this banana republic and decided to "behave". A telephone call to Ms. Lilly IAS secured us a pass to enter the zone with the DSP in the van at the check post scanning our history. The horror stories narrated by the colony people left us with no doubt that the same Police did not try even a bit to dissuade the mob from committing the crime. As the attack began, the police, instead of resisting it, went on extolling to Dalits on behalf of the marauders to escape from their homes and vanish into the sugarcane fields. Apart from the rumours that Vanniyars in the Police force directly or indirectly helped the marauders, one needs just common sense to understand that the Police failure has been the prime reason for this gory incident. And now they escort colony children to and from the village schools. The kids ask the Police uncles on their face whether they will go back to sleep when the mob decides to attack their houses again. On interaction, when Selvi(10) and Arasu(12) residents of Anna nagar colony asked me if they will get back their burnt notebooks and cycles, I choked without an answer. The father of Selvi's classmate is one among the 127 accused out of the 1000-strong mob . Selvi says that she is warned by her classmate of another attack, soon after her father manages to get bail.  This left me to face the stark reality of how critical it would be to restore peace and harmony in their lives for generations to come

Kodagaari and Megala and Chennamma and Aathimoolam and Joseph and Rathnam and Selvam and Suresu and Sarasu and hundreds of the affected hamlets live in their half burnt uninhabitable houses with their tears frozen in trauma. They are still not able to forget the night they had spent on the day of attack hiding in the thorn bushes and sugarcane fields quenching their children's thirst with the urine of siblings. Their minds have clotted at the fear factor that their toil of years and savings in the form of cash, jewellery and movable assets can be looted with such impunity. The helplessness has crippled them since the violence. The government had set up temporary shelter for them and erected sheds for kitchen. Each family was given Rs 50,000 as compensation. One may wish to become blind than to watch them stand in queues with their plates for food. The State machinery has only proved them to be refugees in their own land.   We could insist that a detailed survey of the Dalit hamlets should be thoroughly made to assess the actual loss the people suffered and the government should compensate them in full. But the mental agony can never be compensated by the State machinery which failed to protect them from the hurt. 

Paataali Makkal Katchi(PMK), the first ever party in Tamilnadu which floated its political manifesto on the basis of caste purity is liable to this acrimonious divide between the Dalit and Vanniyar community over the years since its formation. The party spokesperson Kaaduvetti Guru and the head Ramadoss continue to whip up hatred and instigate violence with their inflammatory speeches to gain control on their vote banks. Their unconstitutional speeches mocking the basic sexual right of women and vilifying inter-caste marriages should be charged under appropriate clauses of the law.  It is so evident that PMK is trying to overcome the political heterogeneity of Vanniyar community and consolidate them exploiting the incident. And as an insult to democratic forces in the State, the party went on to bring minions of other Caste Hindu political forces under one umbrella to form a bastion against Dalit empowerment.

Should Dalits be armed in defense? Why should a political party like Paataali Makkal Katchi and allies who instigate people to fall to their baser instincts and aggravate caste conflicts continue to hold the license? Should hundreds of dacoits be spared of Prevention of Atrocities act and given the chance to continue their banditry in the name of caste? Why only arrest 127 of the accused so far? Should the Police negligence be camouflaged just by suspensions and transfers? Why no special courts are established till date under Prevention of Atrocities Act/Section 14 in all the 28 districts reported to be infested by caste clashes out of 32 districts of Tamilnadu? Has the elected chief minister Selvi Jayalalitha gone deaf? Why none of the ministers turned up to listen to the grievances of the victims? These are the endemic questions the Dharmapuri incident has placed before anyone who is secular. I am secular but awed whether fasting, sloganeering, rallying, surrendering voter Ids, ration cards and such civil disobedience exercises are redundant to put the State to shame and I do seek everyone who read this to suggest a way to get justice for the hapless Dalits..

Leena Manimekalai is a Poet and Filmmaker she can be reached at [email protected]

Chinnamma, Natham Colony at her devastated house

Colony Children escorted by Police Constables

Grandmother of Mangamma (20) who died in fasting against the orchestrated arson on Dalits, Dharmapuri

Manju, who went silent for weeks together after losing women self help group's savings of 35000 rupees to the dacoits, Anna nagar Colony

Arson, Natham Colony

Arson , Natham Colony








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